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Laurence “Larry” W. Fredrick ’45

Laurence “Larry” W. Fredrick ’45, 96, passed away on Sunday, May 19, 2024. He was the husband of the late Frances Fredrick.

Dr. Laurence “Larry” W. Fredrick passed peacefully on May 19, 2024 at the age of 96. Larry was instrumental in building the modern-day UVA Astronomy Department, and he was a valued colleague to several generations of astronomers. 

After graduating high school, Larry joined the Navy and served in Naval Intelligence from 1945 to 1948. He then attended Swarthmore College and earned his Bachelor’s in Mathematics (1952) and his Master’s in Astronomy (1954). During that time, he visited McCormick Observatory to take observations for his Master’s research. He earned his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1959, and then joined the staff of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he was involved in the development of photocathode tubes for use in astronomy. 

Larry was recruited to the University of Virginia by William Duren, then Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, who was looking for someone to reestablish the Astronomy Department. At the time, the telescope at McCormick Observatory was not in working order, and much of the equipment was outdated. He came to a department with two faculty members, and through a program of strategic hiring and growth, he led the department to sustained national prominence. 

Upon his arrival at UVA in 1963, he served as the last director of the Leander McCormick Observatory and the first chair of the Department of Astronomy. He realized the scientific potential of McCormick Observatory was limited, so he set out to identify a suitable location to build a modern observatory for the University. This led to the establishment of Fan Mountain Observatory in southern Albemarle County, with first a 31-inch general-purpose telescope, followed by a 40-inch astrometric reflector to continue the parallax work of McCormick Observatory. Around this same time, he was supportive of the effort to bring the headquarters for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to Charlottesville, which invigorated the astronomical research community at UVA. 

Larry was known for his broad expertise as an observer. He was an early advocate for the development of space telescopes, which would not be subject to the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere. He later carried out astrometric studies using the Hubble Space Telescope soon after its launch. 

In addition to his efforts on behalf of the Department and the University, Larry contributed significant service at the national level. He was Secretary of the American Astronomical Society from 1969-1980, a period of significant change and growth in membership. He was also a member of several other professional societies, such as the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Virginia Academy of Science, the Royal Astronomical Society (Fellow), The Planetary Society, and the National Space Society, to name a few. He contributed to the NASA Large Space Telescope Committee, the U. S. Naval Observatory Scientific Visiting Committee, the American Institute of Physics Committee on International Relations, and the American Astronomical Society Committee on Astronomical Public Policy. He chaired NASA’s Astronomy Working Group and was involved in the work of site selection for the Apollo lunar landings. He was also a member of the Astronomy Science Team for the Hubble Space Telescope. 

Larry retired from the Department and was honored as a professor emeritus in 1995. Even in retirement, Larry remained an active part of Department life. He frequently lunched with fellow faculty, taking short walks around Grounds to various restaurants. Larry was an avid golfer, and enjoyed golfing locally at Farmington and Birdwood, as well as traveling to golf all over the world. During his time living at Alden House on Mount Jefferson (Observatory Hill), he held annual Halloween parties that are recalled to this day by faculty and graduate students alike. He was also passionate about photography, and enjoyed taking pictures of nature, astronomical events, and his family. 

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