Saturday, July 16, 2011

A tribute to Nancy Knight

       Dr. Nancy Knight with an egg and the famous Coffeyville, KS, world record hailstone.

Today I learned the sad news that my friend and colleague, Dr. Nancy Knight died on 26 June. Nancy spent her career studying hail alongside her husband, Charlie, at the National Center for Atmospheric Reseach in Boulder, CO. Her body of work is large and very meaningful, quite evidently a labor of love reflecting a lifelong fascination with the topic of her studies. Nancy Knight was one of the world's leading hail scientists and that simple statement needs no embellishment or clarification. When I first met her, while I was a graduate student at OU, she was pioneering the use of storm chasing in hail research, driving a specially-designed hail collection vehicle into hail shafts. I instantly fell in love with her!! How could anyone not like someone so evidently enthusiastic as to drive deliberately into hail shafts?

With time, I came to know more about Nancy and her husband and their research. They made a great team, but make no mistake -- Nancy was not riding on Charlie's coattails!! She was fiercely independent and that was another trait I found endearing. But she was also gentle and thoughtful of others when the occasion warranted it. Nancy was unselfconsciously kind and caring, although this side of her personality might not always reveal itself. My wife and I had occasion to see it from time to time. Nancy was the sort of person who could make friends quickly because she was an open book -- no one had to struggle to know what she thought about something. Yet another endearing trait!

Although all of us who knew her will miss her terribly, the fact is that she leaves this world a much better place for her having been with us for a time. I'm very grateful to have been her friend and I treasure her memory. Her scientific legacy will live on, of course. I know she was an inspiration to many young scientists, perhaps especially so to aspiring young women for whom role models historically have been scarce.

My deepest condolences go to Charlie in his grief over his loss. I trust he knows what a blessing it was to have shared this life with Nancy. My sincere thanks to Charlie for sharing Nancy and her irrepressible spirit with the rest of us!!

1 comment:

Mark Askelson said...

Sometimes I fear I am living in a vacuum as I only learned of Nancy's passing now. I had the pleasure of working with Nancy during the NDTE in 1993 (I was an REU student). Nancy was truly one of a kind, and although I was physically taller than her, I will always look up to her.

Mark Askelson