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Dick Chambers - 1931 to 2012

It is with great sadness to report the loss of our longest serving member, Dick Chambers, who passed away peacefully today at 7.00am 21 November 2012. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends.
Total donations were £285, the flowers were £80 so we raised £205 for the Hospice.
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Richard Henry Chambers, DMS, FIMMM, MRSC


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Dick was born in Greenwich on 12 September 1931. His father, of whom he was very proud, was an Old Contemptible of the First World War. Dick attended the local primary school but, in 1939, he was evacuated to Biddeford, Devon where he went to the Village school and his memories of that time were happy ones..

In 1941, he returned to London to sit for a London Junior Scholarship which he obtained, of course. His elder brother had gone to Roan but Dick was sent to Colfe's Grammar School (as it then was) and thus started a connection to be maintained for over seventy years. He spent one unhappy term with the evacuated School at Tunbridge Wells and then returned to the Emergency School on the Lewisham site. He left in 1947 and became immediately a Laboratory Assistant at Telcon Plastics where he spent much of his career. This was interrupted by two years of National Service in the RAMC. He studied at evening classes for an HNC in Chemistry at what was then Dartford Technical College, and for the Associateship of the Plastics Institute at the National College of Rubber Technology.

At Telcon, he progressed to the position of Chief Chemist where he developed coating powder as a substitute for paint. In the late 1980s, Telcon was reorganised and Dick left to join a powder coating company as Technical manager but sadly that folded. He then had one year at Cannock School in Orpington as Science Master where he proved to be a good and enthusiastic teacher - a career at which he would have excelled. But Cannock closed as a result of harsh economic times and he retired for good.
His interests were many and varied. He had joined the Old Colfeians’ Association shortly after leaving School soon becoming involved in the football section with the 4 XI where he became top scorer by the end of the season! He then became a goal keeper in which role he stayed for his playing career of 150 matches for each of the four OC sides. He also took up cricket when he was 45 and claimed to be a very good fielder never having missed a catch. He served as President of the OCA - its youngest ever - and sat on the Bar Committee, served as the House and Ground Committee Secretary, and as OCA Treasurer for 16 years.

He was Chairman of the London Section of the Plastics Institute, he served on the Institute Council, on the Industry Benevolent Fund as a Trustee and Treasurer for forty years throughout the mergers with the Institution of the Rubber Industry and later the Institute of Materials. He served also on the Committee of the Plastics’ Historical Society and he became a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Horners. He was Chairman of a British Standards Institution Committee, of two International Standards Committees, and author of numerous BSI and ISO standards.
He developed an interest in astronomy at the age of 11. In 1961 he was instrumental in setting up the Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society and a year later he joined the British Astronomical Association. Dick was always a keen supporter of the BAA. He was generous with his astronomical knowledge and he has been a mentor to many of the members, teaching astronomy for many years at evening classes. He was a particular lover of books and his deep knowledge of historical and rare books was invaluable to the Association. More recently Dick has been the BAA Archivist and he brought the Association's historical archive into good order.


He had been unwell for the last two years and gradually became worse. Of all his many qualities, the greatest was his bravery over the last few months as he faced the inevitable - he left as he had lived: cheerfully, generously, and independently.
Keith Lawrey
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BAA Obituary
Richard Henry Chambers, DMS, FIMMM, MRSC

Richard Henry Chambers died peacefully on 2012 November 21 at Greenwich and Bexley Cottage Hospice after a battle with cancer which he endured with great bravery. He was 81.

Richard Chambers, widely known as Dick to his friends (but only with his express permission), reached his 50th anniversary of Association membership in 2012. He was a Council member and latterly our archivist, a role which he created and filled with great enthusiasm. As archivist he was responsible for bringing the Association's historical archive of records, notebooks and publications into good order. Prior to this he was a member of the Library Committee and his deep knowledge of historical and rare books provided key inputs to Council. His recommendations led Council to decide to sell most of our rare book collection to those who could make better use of them, since maintenance and storage of these volumes was a considerable burden. Dick organised this sale and arranged for just the right amount of restoration to maximise their value at auction. This greatly benefitted the Association in difficult economic times.

Dick was elected a member of the Association on 1962 October 31 having been proposed by his great friend Jack Ells. A year earlier he was instrumental in setting up the Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society (CMHAS) and for the first 28 years of its life he was their honorary secretary. CMHAS grew out of a series of evening classes that Dick first attended in the 1950s when H P Wilkins was the lecturer but it only became a formal society when Gordon Taylor, BAA president (1968-1970), took over. Gordon was keen to involve the group in practical experiments and Dick took to this enthusiastically using his organisational skills to ensure that the experiments were carried out effectively. He then collaborated with Gordon in writing up “An investigation into the phase anomaly of Venus” for the Journal. Four years later he wrote up another of the experiments in “An experiment in determining the accuracy of visual estimates of artificial satellite positions”.

When photoelectric photometry started to become a significant interest at Crayford Dick was the first person to suggest that a meeting should be held to discuss the subject. He was not an expert but his organisational skills brought together a strong group of variable star observers. He was also a key personality in early UK efforts to forge links between professionals and amateurs since, in 1988, he instigated a meeting at UCL which led to the formation of the pro-am liaison committee (PALC) for variable stars. This committee sat for the next six years before e-mail took over as a more efficient way to collaborate. It was a model for other observing disciplines.

Dick was a regular participant and an early speaker at Winchester and he was always a great supporter of the event. He also provided Winchester write-ups for the Journal and these were often quite amusing, particularly in the year when a keynote speaker managed to fall off the stage. Many members will know Dick from the animated discussions that would take place in the “Crayford” kitchen at Winchester and from the occasional snores that would greet a particularly dull talk.

His earlier connection with Wilkins came in handy when, much later, Dick was instrumental in the recovery of some of Wilkins’ lost lunar notebooks. These had been left to Wilkins’ assistant, a Mr. Edwin Deavin, when he was a lecturer at the Crayford Manor House. Dick managed to trace Deavin’s surviving relatives, who kindly handed over three of Wilkins’ notebooks containing observational and other material. These are now lodged at the National Maritime Museum and scans are held in the Lunar Section archive.

Dick was born in Greenwich on 1931 September 12. His father was an Old Contemptible of the First World War. Dick was one of four children. He had an older brother and sister but was particularly close to his twin brother Peter who was killed in a plane crash at Brampton, Huntingdon in May, 1951 during his National Service. Dick attended the local primary school but, in 1939, he was evacuated to Biddeford, Devon where he went to the village school. In 1941, he returned to London to sit for a London Junior Scholarship which he obtained. Dick was then sent to Colfe's Grammar School. He left in 1947 and became a laboratory assistant at Telcon Plastics where he spent much of his career. This was interrupted by two years of National Service in the RAMC. He studied at evening classes for an HNC in chemistry at what was then Dartford Technical College, and for the Associateship of the Plastics Institute at the National College of Rubber Technology.

At Telcon, he progressed to the position of Chief Chemist where he developed coating powder as a substitute for paint. In the late 1980s, Telcon was reorganised and Dick left to join a powder coating company as Technical Manager but sadly that folded. He then had one year at Cannock School in Orpington as Science Master where he proved to be a good and enthusiastic teacher - a career at which he would have excelled. But, in 1995, Cannock closed as a result of harsh economic times and he retired for good.

Outside his career and astronomy Dick’s interests were many and varied. He had joined the Old Colfeians’ Association (OCA) shortly after leaving school and soon became involved in the football section with the 4th XI where he became top scorer by the end of the season. He then became a goalkeeper in which role he stayed for his playing career of 150 matches for each of the four OCA sides. He also took up cricket when he was 45 and claimed to be a very good fielder never having missed a catch. He served as President of the OCA - its youngest ever - and sat on the Bar Committee, served as the House and Ground Committee Secretary, and as OCA Treasurer for 16 years.

He was Chairman of the London Section of the Plastics Institute. He served on the Institute Council, on the Industry Benevolent Fund as a Trustee and Treasurer for forty years throughout the mergers with the Institution of the Rubber Industry and later the Institute of Materials. He also served on the Committee of the Plastics’ Historical Society and he became a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Horners. He was Chairman of a British Standards Institution Committee, of two International Standards Committees, and author of numerous BSI and ISO standards.

Dick had strong views on various subjects and he would certainly defend these robustly when challenged. He could also be a difficult man to work with since he was often convinced that his way was the only right way. This could be infuriating but those that knew him well saw the other side of his character. He was a very honourable man of the old school. If he said he was going to do something then he would do it. He would never hold a grudge, no matter how long, or how passionate, an argument might have been. Any differences would be settled over a beer in the local pub when the formal discussion was over.

He was very keen on the social aspects of astronomy and was a self-taught expert on the various beers of Kent. He was always convivial company in the pub after meetings but was also concerned to ensure fair pub etiquette. To that end Dick maintained the legendary Crayford Beer List. This alcoholic Domesday Book recorded every drink purchased after each Crayford meeting so that it was always clear who was responsible for buying the next round. One day this volume may serve as the primary source for a BAA paper on the alcohol consumption habits of astronomers.

Dick had been unwell for the last two years and his health gradually became worse. Those who saw him in the final months know that he handled his condition with a typical mixture of dignity and bloody mindedness. During the 2012 October BAA Council meeting he noted that a particular point related to the storage of books had been debated for a year and that no decision was in sight. He calmly stated that if a decision was not made within a few weeks he would take matters into his own hands. Any sanctions that we could devise were unlikely to be effective since he was not going to be around for much longer. This concentrated the minds of Council members and a solution was quickly forthcoming. After the meeting Dick joked that this was not a negotiating position that could be used very often. That was his last Council meeting.

Dick was always a keen, but sometimes rightly critical, supporter of the BAA. He was generous with his astronomical knowledge and he was a mentor to many. We have suffered a huge loss but he will never be forgotten by his friends within the BAA and in the wider astronomical world. His ashes were buried with the bodies of his parents and brother Peter in Charlton Cemetery.

I would like to record my thanks to the many people who have provided material for this obituary but particularly to his friends Keith Lawrey, Jean Felles, Roger Pickard and John Wall and to his nephew, John Isles.
Nick James. 2012 December 31.






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