Monday, July 19, 2010

Another great man passes ...

Today, I learned of the death of Prof. Walter J. Saucier - his obituary is all too brief, and doesn't begin to touch on the tremendous impact he has had on so many of us. I mentioned him here as one of those who were most influential on my career. Walt was an uncomproming scientist, who never let misconceptions and misstatements go unchallenged. He was an educator of the highest rank, who was more concerned with being an educator than he was with advancing his career. He founded 3 different meteorology programs (at Texas A&M, University of Oklahoma, and North Carolina State University).

But the very traits that made Walt such a compelling role model for me also served him poorly at the level of university bureaucrats. By not suffering foolishness gladly (or silently), he got into trouble with the coneheads and by not participating in the gamesmanship of being a university professor, he didn't have all his boxes checked when he was challenged by those bureaucrats. He was still bitter about what happened to him here at OU (leading to his departure to North Carolina) when I saw him at the 25th anniversary of the OU Meteorology department. I very much hope he gave up most of that bitterness in his final years, as the 50th anniversary looms on the horizon this year (2010) - it made me sad to see him still so unhappy about what happened.

Walt was a great teacher, who was so entertaining in the classroom, you had to discipline yourself not to be distracted by his delivery. The content of his lectures was thick with profound understanding and he conveyed it without any hint of ego, but rather with great enthusiasm. I feel sorry for anyone who may have read his textbook (Principles of Meteorological Analysis) without having also heard him lecture.

But he was much more than a teacher. Among other things, he was a great cook (appropriate, given his surname) and a great host at parties. Walt liked good food and drink, and enjoyed sharing his likes, even with lowly graduate students. And he was a good friend, who always wanted to discuss new ideas about kinematic analysis - one of his favorite topics.

For those of us he has left behind, we will always have the benefit of his tremendous professional legacy: the students he influenced and his incredible textbook. Our time with him was an enormous blessing. I offer my deepest sympathies to his family in their loss and want to let them know how much he meant to many, many people - we thank you for sharing him with us.


Nate Johnson said...

Thanks for your thoughts. As an alum of the meteorology program Dr. Saucier helped found at NC State, I was lucky to have had the chance to meet him. He attended many local AMS chapter meetings, and he was a fixture at the student AMS chapter picnics until very recently. Faculty and alumni of all three programs owe him a debt of gratitude for making our studies at our respective institutions possible.

===== Roger ===== said...

Although I never met Walt, his influence on me was profound in that he (along with Yoshi and others) kick-started the OU School of meteorology, which in turn opened the door for an avenue of education and rewarding careers in the science for me and many hundreds of other students. Would the most serious of us about meteorology have been educated elsewhere? Sure, but not in the same way, and with the specific legacy he left. Were it not for Walt, there might not have been an OU meteorology program that led to my taking a fantastic course called Advanced Forecast Techniques taught by some dude named Doswell. It's amazing to imagine fully how these dominoes fall, and how the impact of one person can start their tumbling just so.