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Bigger than any of us

I don’t remember when I first met Seymour, but I know his name had already been on many an article that I read before I met him. It must have been around 1992, and I was surprised how young he was (just 3 years older than myself) for someone already so accomplished. And I knew, instinctively, that I would never in my life be able to achieve anything near to what he would.

At the time my focus was on precise orbit determination, and I was spending time at MSSL working with Andy Ridout on improving the orbits in the Arctic regions. Out there on the hill things could be slow at times, but whenever Seymour dropped in, things always sped up, scientifically as well as socially.

I returned some years later for a week or so (staying at Jonathan Bamber at the time) and to pass the weekend Seymour generously offered me his road bike. It was only when I picked it up that I became a bit nervous. This was a brand new bike with less than 100 miles on it, and I was not used to biking on the left-hand side of the road. None of this perturbed him the least, and handed his bike over with full confidence in me. When I returned it at the end of the weekend, with the mileage more than doubled, he dryly remarked that it now made him look so much more of a cyclist.

His confidence in other people was clearly not limited to just that. I think he knew exactly whom to involve in his research, those who could keep up with the fast pace of his own work. Looking at some old e-mails, he is always enthusiastically asking for results, “doesn’t need to be anything polished”, eager to keep the momentum going.

Keeping up with his pace appeared also a challenge when walking back from ESRIN into Frascati some time last year. In stead of waiting for the bus, we walked back together, uphill. And while he was talking about some more ideas for research that he wanted to have my opinion on, he marched on, leaving little for me than to follow in his footsteps, as I had already figured out long ago.

But while he was bigger than any of us, he was always just one of us, always the first to call for a beer, make a joke, and just make you feel you were part of an everlasting adventure, one that merged good science with good fun. Like taking a dive in the Mediterranean in April 2000, a little break from the EGU meeting.

I’m afraid it will take while before we will fully appreciate what his departure will mean for Arctic altimetry. That will be something for the long run again. Fortunately, he left us quite a few well-skilled disciples.

Remko Scharroo