I had trouble starting this rambling piece, perhaps because I was unwilling to acknowledge that Seymour had left us. Seymour, Fiona and Imogen visited us in Guildford over 22nd/23rd December, and were if anything more upbeat and relaxed than ever, with Imogen excited for Christmas, and much to look forward to for the three of them. I shall not forget the chat over breakfast coffee and croissants and the casual goodbyes that followed, but how could I have known?
Seymour and Fiona are our friends of many years as well as my colleagues. Seymour first pitched up at UCL’s MSSL as an undergraduate student (around 1986) and was given a third year project in radar altimetry of sea ice. It was my job to help him get up and running with software and data handling. At that time Chris Rapley was building up the Remote Sensing Group (as it was then called), and there were a number of ESA studies running to look at applications of radar altimetry over non-ocean surfaces. The late 1980’s saw an influx of PhD students and postdocs including a young Fiona Strawbridge. It seemed pretty obvious to all of us that Seymour and Fiona would somehow end up together, although I recall it was not always so obvious to them at the time…
MSSL in the late ‘80’s was probably the most sociable workplace I have ever worked in. Pretty much all of us remain friends to this day, in a ‘mates’ way not just a ‘colleagues’ way. They were all into outdoor activities such as rock climbing, walking, the arts, non-mainstream music, having a laugh, and going to the pub.
As the data sets started to roll in (SeaSat, GEOSAT, then ERS-1/2) Seymour found that yes, one could measure the freeboard of sea ice, but it was really tricky. You need to be on top of everything that contributes to the measurement, and you need to compensate for everything that conspires to mess it up. You need a long time series, a firm grasp of error budgets, a common measurement datum across all instruments, in-situ calibration and colleagues to help with algorithm development and the massive amount of data processing. It is precision geodesy. He refined the techniques over the next 25 years. He also discovered that one could ‘see’ the Arctic-ocean gravity anomalies through the sea ice, leading to papers in Science with his US collaborator Doug McAdoo. While all this was going on we found time to go rock climbing in the summer evenings, and of course to the pub. I remember walking one evening with Seymour and Fiona from Guildford to The Godalming Cider House (now closed) along the River Wey taking turns to carry my daughter Amy (now nearly 26!).
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the way that Seymour and that group of people worked was exceptional, in that they were all practical and multi-skilled as well as academically gifted. It was great to see Seymour get his lectureship and progress to Professor in recent times.
Seymour’s mum Veronica used to own a little house in Dryos on the Greek island of Paros. Veronica let us use it rent-free for a holiday in the spring of 1996. Sara was very pregnant and my father, suffering from Alzheimer’s, had just been taken into a nursing home. We were planning a fairly radical move to another house in the event that Dad would need to join us. Sunshine was required. Dryos in ’96 was not a resort. It was small and quiet, as was the little house. It has a beach. In short, it was just what we needed. We spent a very relaxed couple of weeks there, and a rare smile appeared on Megan’s face (4 years old) on feeling the warm sunshine. Perhaps the stress had been getting to her as well. Thank you Veronica and Seymour.
We were leaving a fully functioning semi in Seymour’s road in Guildford for a rambling semi-derelict barn of a place on Portsmouth Road. The house had no heating, a tiny and dysfunctional kitchen in the attic, and leaks in the roof. I was miles behind with the preparation. Sara had Jack the day before the move, which made everything rather interesting. Seymour and Colin Johnson came to the rescue by acting as the removal team with Seymour driving. They were lifesavers that day. We moved Sara into a bedroom with the day-old Jack, and created a nest for her, while Seymour, Colin and some other friends helped us move all the stuff in. I can’t think of a better example of Seymour’s generosity and willingness to pitch in.
I left the UCL group that October to join ESYS, but kept in contact with Seymour and Fiona. The climbing, meals and pub trips continued. Seymour found himself collaborating with ESYS on ice forecasting for a round-the-world yacht race. Thus he became a regular at ESYS parties, and a certain South American knitted jumper he owned became some sort of talisman for Mike Dillon, ESYS’s MD. It always appeared at every party. I will not forget Seymour falling into the band during an attempt at ‘dancing’ while on a barge in the middle of the Thames.
I was re-united with the UCL altimeter team in the early 2000’s after Duncan Wingham contracted me to help manage and prepare the CryoSat ground segment software. By this time Seymour had moved to the Bloomsbury campus, but we had regular contact, including at a CryoSat workshop in Friedrichshafen and again in the magnificent ancient town of Matera in southern Italy. CryoSat 1 going into the drink was a major blow, but Seymour and Duncan eventually got a sharper set of tools in Cryosat 2. Now that Seymour’s work is making waves, and the importance of the ice volume measurement realized, it is such a shame that he will not be able to capitalize personally on his huge investment. However I’m sure that colleagues can continue and follow through.
We were so glad when Fiona and Seymour had Imogen. As several people have noted it was delightful to see him turn out to be such a loving and caring father. Some things don’t change though. When we went to visit when Imogen was a few days old, Seymour put her in a front sling and we went straight to the pub!
Our families had a knack of booking holidays in Cornwall at the same time. It happened in 2012 again, and we met up and spent a sunny morning on the beach at Treen Cove near Porthcurno. It was great to see Seymour splashing about in the sea with little Imogen.
So thank you Seymour for everything, and I will miss you greatly. I will not run into you at ESTEC, ESRIN or random foreign towns again, I will not have a beer with you at conferences, talk nonsense and wisdom in bars, or eat meals with you in unexpected places, but I will remember you every time I do those things and visit those places. Sara and I will be there for Fiona and Imogen if they need us. Goodnight my friend. Sleep well.