I’ve had the privilege of knowing Tony and Lorraine Aveni for 50 years, since my freshman fall of 1966. When I was choosing colleges, my high school superintendent, a Colgate alum, steered me toward Colgate. He didn’t know Tony Aveni, but he knew that Colgate hires the best and provides an environment where those best can do their best. Like so many of you, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like had I not met Tony Aveni and experienced the true teaching and true scholarship he embodies, embedded with passion and friendship in his unique way.
Fall 1966. The year of the Leonid meteor shower, which is good only every 33rd year. This was the year, and every November night had been cloudy. Tony had told us to call him, whatever the hour, if it cleared up. I was studying my German and went outside for a break around 2:30 a.m. and, lo and behold, it was crystal clear. Should I call him? I was only a freshman. With my entire future at stake and heart pounding, I took him at his word and rang the phone. Lorraine answered, groggy from being awoken at that ridiculous hour; trying not to sound too frightened, I asked for Dr. Aveni. Ten minutes later, we were at the Observatory. He swung the camera into action and organized us for counting meteors. We counted them at the rate of 108 per hour before the clouds rolled back in. What’s the point? His passion, his rigor, and his word. Good then and good now, a half century later.
Then there’s the Aveni most of you didn’t know—Fang! Fang was their dog when they lived in a house on the road to Poolville. Tony and Lorraine would have us over for dinner and stuff us full of spaghetti to the point where we were in danger of a loud burp of appreciation. Then Tony would summon Fang, get out the jar of peanut butter, thumb out a big glob into Fang’s mouth, and watch us watch Fang run his tongue back and forth to get rid of the brown goo. Fang didn’t care about dignity, but the rest of us did and strove mightily to suppress burps while doubled over in laughter.
Spring 1969. Astronomy 314—stellar structure. A real course! With consummate rigor, the master teacher—though we didn’t know the term then—led us through the physics of how stars work. When I took the same course in graduate school a couple years later from another master teacher, I already knew almost all of the course content, thanks to Tony. That course from Tony forms the heart of a similar one I teach today nearly five decades later to Tony’s academic “grandchildren” in my own classes. Caption: (1. Left to Right: Bob Linsley, Jeff Fischbeck '71, Bruce Selleck '71, Tony Aveni, photo by Dale Smith '70; 2. Tony and Bob Linsley; 3. Tony & Dale Smith at Teotihuacan, 1970; 4. Tony at Monte Alban, 1970)
January 1970. Tony’s first archaeoastronomy trip to Mexico. Co-led by Bob Linsley in Geology, the trip took eight of us Colgate students and Bob’s son David on a grand tour of Mexico’s ancient stone sites from Teotihuacan to Chichen Itza. For me, it triggered a lifelong fascination with these Mesoamerican sites. For Tony, though we did not know it at the time, it was the beginning of a whole new career that has bridged the sciences and humanities in a way that he himself has defined and that is the very best of Colgate. We made transit measurements in Teotihuacan, when my hair was still brown and when he still had some hair on top! Later in Monte Alban, we stood atop Mound J, shaped like a baseball’s home plate, and still later back in Hamilton discovered the astronomical significance of this weird building. He was discovering the beginning of the career path that has so enriched him and generations of Colgate students. Unwittingly, perhaps, he was also teaching this student (Class was Not Dismissed!) how rigorous science was done. Little too might he have imagined then that he would become a leader—if not THE leader—in the emerging field of archaeoastronomy.
(Caption:Tony at Jefferson Memorial 1983 during Professor of the Year ceremony)
Spring 1983. I was back at Colgate for a two-year stint as Visiting Professor. During this time, Tony was nominated for the Professor of the Year award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. We who wrote letters knew that as undergrads we had been in the presence of a master teacher, scholar, and friend. In one way the letters were easy to write because there were so many strengths and examples. In another way, the letters were a challenge to write because the strengths and examples didn’t tell the whole story. Why? Because there were those terrific intangibles that almost defy expression in words, but that all of us who have known Tony over the decades feel and understand and are so enriched by. Those intangibles were as true 50 years ago as they are today.
Summer circa 1995. Tony and Lorraine were visiting me at my home in Bowling Green, Ohio, where I am an astronomer and planetarium director at the university. I had recently created a planetarium show on archaeoastronomy and, somewhat nervously, wanted Tony and Lorraine to see it. Would it be okay? Would it pass muster with the master? It did! They liked it! I now had the seal of approval from the one who had opened that field and had opened so much of the world to me and to so many others. Thank you—both—and blessings for many, many years to come.