Multiple Memorials for Doug ReVelle

Sep 14, 2012 | 0 comments

Doug ReVelleSometimes, one memorial service is not enough. The many facets of our lives can be celebrated over time and space with different people. Such is the case for Douglas O. ReVelle.

Doug died on May 2, 2010 and a memorial service was held on May 23rd in Los Alamos, NM, where the family lived and Doug retired from the lab there. Another memorial service was held in August of 2011 at a family cabin in Maine. That’s when the majority of his cremated remains were buried next to those of his brother Chuck.

A third celebration, The Douglas O. ReVelle Memorial Balloon Launch, took place on August 15, 2012  at the Russell Woods Forest Preserve in Genoa, IL. A small portion of his cremated remains were sent aloft in a weather balloon. This salute to Doug as a professor gave his students the opportunity to honor his life and work. It was also the fulfillment of his last wish.

Doug was my mother’s cousin. His mother and my grandfather were siblings. Doug and his family lived a two and a half hour drive away from me. Over the past 18 years, Doug and his wife Ann and their two sons David and Peter came to my house in Albuquerque for holiday celebrations and my husband and I went to Los Alamos for milestone events. During the disastrous Cerro Grande Fire in May 2000, when Los Alamos was evacuated, they stayed in my home while I was on a long trip back East.

Doug had battled lymphoma and seemed to have beaten it with chemotherapy. However, the treatment activated a latent hepatitis B infection, which eventually led to his death. Doug was in an Albuquerque hospital during his last two weeks. Ann, David and Peter came to stay at my house during that trying time.

Doug ReVelle and Einstein

Doug ReVelle with an Einstein mannequin at the CosmoCaixa-Science Museum in Barcelona, Spain, 2007

Doug’s last wish, expressed to Ann before he slipped into a coma, was to have his ashes scattered in the upper atmosphere. “Don’t forget me,” was the last thing he said to her. He was an aeronomer, someone who studies the upper atmospheric regions of the Earth.

Aeronomy is also concerned with the atmospheres around meteors, comets and satellites, or any other atmosphere where ionization, particularly of oxygen, takes place. Doug taught dynamic meteorology, atmospheric sciences and climate dynamics at Northern Illinois University from 1984 to 1993.

He studied in pioneering theoretical work the interaction of meteors and planetary atmospheres.  He addressed, in particular, aerodynamics, ablation, meteor acoustics and infrasonic meteor observations. An asteroid was named in his honor, 13358 Revelle, with the dedication “Douglas O. ReVelle, for his pioneering work in meteor physics and astronomy based on theoretical aerodynamics, in meteor acoustics and in the interpretation of infrasonic meteor observations.”

Doug’s past students worked together with Ann to create this memorial event on August 15, 2012. They found an appropriate weather balloon, poured his ashes into the balloon, then filled it with helium. The cremated remains of two of his beloved dogs, Sparky and Shadow, were also mixed in so he’d have company on his trip. Ann obtained permission to do the balloon launch from Russell Woods Forest Preserve management. The sledding hill location of the event was significant. It’s where Doug and Ann took the kids for winter fun when they lived there. Here’s the video of the launch.

YouTube player

Doug’s favorite quote was from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” A payload card attached to the balloon with his photo read:

Douglas O. ReVelle
Memorial Balloon Launch
August 15, 2012
Husband and Father
Our Relative, Our Friend, Our Mentor, Our Colleague
We send you off to the skies
where you will never be forgotten
If you find this card, please contact us on Facebook

After the launch, there was a gathering at a picnic shelter for food and sharing of stories and good memories about Doug. It was a catered sack lunch affair where everyone ordered off a menu: no platters to worry about and easy to clean up. One former student brought a cooler of drinks as their contribution. This was followed by a tour of the Geography Department at Northern Illinois University by the woman who took over after Doug went on to other positions. Ann also got together with his former students the next night at a restaurant to talk about memories and stories of Doug.

Doug ReVelle's Multiple Memorials

Doug’s first memorial service was held three weeks after his death. Family, friends and neighbors gathered at a community center in Los Alamos. The Los Alamos Jewish Community’s Rabbi Jack Shlachter facilitated the service, which included readings by family members and remembrances from friends. Readings included passages from the Bible, poetry, prayers, and Psalms 23 and 121: A Song of Ascent (especially appropriate here in the Rocky Mountains):

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Here’s the Hebrew version, Asa Eni, that Rabbi Jack sang:

Psalm 121

Ann’s friends put together a lovely reception at the community center. The family later went to Rancho de Chimayo Restaurante, a place where other family milestones were celebrated.

Family gathered in orchard to bury Doug's ashesDoug did not want his remains buried in Los Alamos. His parents were buried in a Conservative Jewish cemetery in Tucson, and he was more Reform, so that didn’t seem like the right place for him. His brother Chuck had died a few years earlier, and his cremated remains were buried in an apple orchard at the family’s cabin in Maine.

So in August 2011, the family held a small interment ceremony there, planting an apricot tree over his remains. Apricots were special to Doug and a favorite fruit.

Ann’s brother Tom, a talented woodworker, made the box for the cremains with wooden pegs – no metal parts as Jewish caskets are traditionally made. Pink granite from Vermont with bronze plates were placed as markers.

Ann said she had gone to a bereavement group and learned that it is helpful to do conscious activities, to plan and to do, to help process the grief of loss. “Each event fulfilled a different need to honor his memory in a lasting way,” she explained.

And the events will continue. Ann will celebrate her 65th birthday on October 4 with a large Oktoberfest kegger party. Doug only made it to his 64th birthday. The party will recognize that life goes on and give a big thank-you to everyone in Los Alamos who supported her through the loss. She has lived in Los Alamos for 18 years, the longest she’s ever lived anywhere in her life. Ann will retire on November 1 and will sell the family home to downsize into a smaller house in Los Alamos.

Change is constant. Death happens. Life goes on. Treasure every day. Celebrate often.

Douglas Orson ReVelle, we will always remember you.

A Good Goodbye