In Memoriam

memoriam-wilson-a.jpgSeptember 30 - Memorial for former dean Curtis Wilson

Remarks from the memorial service by:

Curtis Alan Wilson, a widely recognized historian of astronomy who twice served as dean of St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., died August 24 in Petoskey, Mich., at McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital. He had been vacationing at nearby Mackinac Island. He was 91. Death was attributed to a heart attack.

The author of numerous publications and reviews, Mr. Wilson had served on the St. John's faculty almost continuously since 1948, both on its Annapolis and Santa Fe campuses. Beginning in l966, he spent seven years as a professor at the University of California in San Diego. He returned to St. John's College in 1973 to begin a second term as dean in Annapolis. His first term had been between 1958 and 1962. During the autumn semesters of 1982 and 1986 he was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Following his retirement, he was a visiting professor for a semester in 1991 at the University of Toronto. He continued to engage in scholarship and publish until his death.

A native of Los Angeles, Mr. Wilson was born on April 8, 1921. He was a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles and received both his master's and doctoral degrees from Columbia University, where he was a University Fellow. Awarded a Fulbright, he completed additional work toward his doctorate at the University of Padua in 1950-51.

Mr. Wilson centered his extensive writings on Kepler, Newton, Horrocks, Delambre, Euler and other figures important in the early foundations of modern astronomy. In recognition of his contributions, he became the first recipient in 1998 of the LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for writings in the history of astronomy awarded by the American Astronomical Society. Between 1979 and 2001 he served on the editorial board of the Archive for the History of Exact Sciences. He was also editor of the second volume of The General History of Astronomy: Planetary Astronomy from the Renaissance to the Rise of Astrophysics published by Cambridge University Press.

In 2010, more than 7 years of study culminated in the publication of his final book, The Hill-Brown Theory of the Moon's Motion: Its Coming-to-be and Short-lived Ascendancy (1877-1984). Mr. Wilson was a member of the International Academy of the History of Science and of Commission 4l of the International Astronomical Union.

A man of wide interests, Mr. Wilson continued to be active until the end of his life. A pianist, he was a member this past summer of a St. John's faculty study group on John Maynard Keynea and took part in a twice weekly tai chi class at the Annapolis Senior Center. In addition, he was part of a long running play reading group made up of St. John's and community participants.

Surviving are his wife of 58 years, the former Rebecca Marston; two sons, John Wilson, of Blacksburg, Va., and Christopher Wilson, of Pueblo West, Colo.; and a number of nieces and nephews.

A memorial service was held at St. John's College in Annapolis on September 30 at 10:30 a.m. in the Great Hall. Gifts in his memory may be made to St. John's College, P.O. Box 2800, Annapolis, Md. 2l404.