For Bob Rood, one of the coolest people I know

Update: The family has set up a public Facebook page where you can share your favorite Bob Rood stories and memories. Also, the current astronomy department chair wrote this in remembrance of Bob.

Update 2: A public memorial service will be held at 4pm on November 10th at the University of Virginia chapel. It will be followed by a reception at the McCormick Observatory.

Today, a great person and astronomer was lost to us. Bob Rood, recently retired professor of astronomy at the University of Virginia, passed away earlier today.

Rood was serving his last year as department chair when I came to UVa as a grad student. He was warm, funny, and welcoming. The department had seen significant growth during his time at the helm, but he was ready to put aside the administrative responsibilities and get back to more teaching and research.

When he moved to a new office, Rood was right across from the “big” grad office while I was there with nine other grad students. It was easy to go across the hall and sit down with him to ask him about research or fun old stories from Green Bank. He would tell me about the fun stuff they used to do with the old cars and made sure I knew that there was a liquor cabinet for visiting astronomers! He was still actively doing research, even getting four monitors in his office so he could mimic the GBT observing station while in Charlottesville. You could always tell which car was his, as it had some reference to the astronomy research he was doing.

UVa has a really cool class in its astronomy curriculum called “Life Beyond Earth.” That was also Rood’s doing. I had the privilege of teaching that course in the summer of 2010, and he was always generous with lectures notes, advice, and letting me sit in on his class to observe. He had even participated in some SETI research himself!

In the second semester of Dark Skies, Bright Kids, we started going to Yancey Elementary School which was a few minutes from the house where Bob lived with his wife, Marti. They would have the whole gaggle of us volunteers over for dinner every time we had a daytime and nighttime session at the school, so we would be refreshed in between. Rood made the best risotto I have ever had, and I’m picky. Those Friday nights sitting around with Bob, Marti, all of DSBK, and a few bottles of wine were so lovely.

I had gotten the idea in my head during Science Online 2011 that I was going to collect some of my favorite stories from the history of radio astronomy that are lesser known to the public and publish them as a book. Rood was one of my favorite storytellers. But I put it off, and now I won’t get the chance to hear those stories first hand from him again, and I’m kicking myself for it.

Rood had no problem being controversial, as well. His car sported a very amusing “Astronomers Against McCain” sticker during the 2008 presidential elections. Not that not supporting a Republican candidate is controversial in astronomy, but it was a rather specific sticker! He also had this really great coffee mug that Phil Plait told me about that used to make undergraduates that visited his office rather uncomfortable. It has cartoons of rabbits doing, eh, interesting things with each other all around it. I asked him about it couple of years ago, and he gave it to me to keep because it was “time to pass it on to a new generation.” I’ve always enjoyed the weird looks it gets!

Bob Rood was an excellent photographer and took the loveliest portraits when people weren’t looking. Every few years or so, a few of us would gather in the conference room for his photo-tour of the history of UVa Astronomy, even if it was just to giggle at the 70s hairstyles of our favorite professors. The whole collection is posted at his website, and I’d always eagerly check for new pictures after an astronomy event. Even if you don’t know any Charlottesville astronomers from the 1970s, 1980s, or 2000s, you should at least check out his solar eclipse photos from 2009.

Rood had just begun to enjoy his retirement the way any good astronomer does, as he was off to visit with research collaborators in Italy. His passing was rather sudden, at least to me, and I’m really going to miss him. But, I don’t think he’d want people to be sad, but rather to fondly remember the life that he enjoyed. So raise your best glass of wine in a toast to Bob Rood, one of the coolest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

A rare occasion when he let himself be the photographee, rather than photographer

15 comments for “For Bob Rood, one of the coolest people I know

  1. November 2, 2011 at 23:46

    CRAP!
    Keep us at CAS informed of any memorial service, please. Also, if the family would like donations to a charity or DSBK, we’ll pass the hat.
    He’s missed already.

  2. November 2, 2011 at 23:50

    I am very sad to hear this news today. Thanks for this warm, heart-felt blog entry.

  3. Emilie Snell-Rood
    November 3, 2011 at 08:43

    Nicole — Thank you SO much for this posting. It was indeed a sudden and unexpected event — one that will take everyone who knew him quite some time to process. But it is so wonderful to hear stories and I really appreciate this reflection on such a wonderful man. In the coming days, feel free to get in touch with me over email for more details — we will have more soon on a memorial service, but we’re aiming for sometime later next week. Thanks for your thoughts — Emilie, Marti and Claire

  4. David Soderblom
    November 3, 2011 at 09:26

    Bob was the genuine article as a gentleman. You knew where he stood, but he didn’t stand on anybody else to do that. He contributed a great set of photos for an IAU symposium I ran a couple of years ago.

  5. Tom Wilson
    November 3, 2011 at 09:28

    Bob was a great friend and a wonderful person. I was saddened and shocked to learn of this.

  6. Jeff Bary
    November 3, 2011 at 09:54

    I am so sorry to hear about Bob’s passing. One of his Italian collaborators once told me that they could always tell when the porcini were in season by whenever Bob was in town for a visit. So I smile to hear that he made it to Bologna for one last porcini season.

  7. Tom Brown
    November 3, 2011 at 09:54

    This is such terrible news. Thanks for putting up a great piece.

  8. November 3, 2011 at 11:13

    I’m very sorry to hear this. I had him in the early ’90s and loved the class.

  9. Leighton Jackson
    November 3, 2011 at 15:37

    Bob was my cousin-in-law, I suppose you’d say; Marti is my first cousin. I’ll never forget the day I first met Bob. It must have been at one of our family reunions. As his face was new to me, I made some inane comment about his t-shirt, undoubtedly something on the topic of astronomy. Bob looked at me as if I had two heads and said something like, “What are you talking about?” Things were all uphill, in the most positive sense, after that. Thank you so much for your super posting.

  10. Kelsey Johnson
    November 3, 2011 at 17:25

    Nicole, wonderful job and thank you for putting into words what many of us are thinking/feeling. I also sense that he would want us to celebrate and laugh, and probably open a very nice bottle of wine. Although that is hard to contemplate right now. We should all aspire to be more like Bob.

  11. Emilie Snell-Rood
    November 4, 2011 at 12:52

    We have setup a public facebook page where family, friends, students, and colleagues can post stories, thoughts, memories, and pictures: http://www.facebook.com/pages/In-Memory-of-Bob-Rood/277334052312062

  12. November 4, 2011 at 13:07

    Thank you for this wonderful piece! Both the “picture” of Bob and the lovely photograph. I’m one of his brothers-n-law and a photographer and can attest to his not being easy to photograph! He was a remarkable human being. I must say I feel like I was just beginning to get to know him, even after many years, and was constantly delighted by what I saw and learned. I know his family so appreciates all the support his colleagues have given this week and trust that can continue into the future as well.

  13. Melissa McGrath
    November 6, 2011 at 02:24

    Bob had that rabbit mug when I was a grad student in the 80s – it lasted a long time! I am glad to know it is in good hands.

  14. Sam Wilder
    November 6, 2011 at 15:56

    Just got notice of Bob’s death from PhilHubbard. Bob, Phil and I were good friends during our years at Cary High School and at N.C. State University. He and his family were always friendly, always interesting. I never dreamed Bob would be the first of our little group to leave it. I hope there is a place in the heavens for such a stellar person.

  15. Bill Taylor
    November 7, 2011 at 11:07

    Bob was a year ahead of me in high school when we attended Cary Senior High, Bob was a friend who was one brillant guy when he had a camera in his hand. I always knew he was very intellectual as he would on occassion talk to me about subjects that I could only look at him and nod a yes, I think I understand. I have not seen Bob since our high school days. To this day I have several photos he took of me playing sports at Cary High and some displayed in our home. My sincere best wishes to Bob’s family.

    Bill Taylor

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