Ask Dr. SETI ®
by H. Paul Shuch
Executive Director Emeritus, The SETI League, Inc.
Last month, I had the sad duty of reporting to you the passing of Tom Pierson, my counterpart at the SETI Institute. Tom was four years my junior and, although I knew about his long battle with cancer, I somehow always thought he'd outlive me. So, his death forces me to stare my own mortality squarely in the face.
Tom was more than just a professional colleague; in the three decades we knew each other, he became a friend, advisor, and confidant. By the time The SETI League was founded, Tom had already headed up our (admittedly larger and better known) sister organization for a decade. We had met in that organization's early days, at a SETI conference organized by Tom at the California Academy of Sciences. At the time, I was an academic trying to incorporate SETI science into my engineering curriculum. Tom was already a seasoned administrator (a job to which I never particularly aspired).
When founder Richard Factor tapped me as The SETI League's first Executive Director, one of the first people I contacted was Tom Pierson. His wealth of administrative experience made it possible for him to guide me through the paperwork morass of creating bylaws and operating rules and policies and procedures. If you look closely, you will see his fingerprints all over The SETI League's website. Ever generous with his time, Tom also took the extra step of becoming a SETI League Charter Member. His membership would gladly have been issued gratis, but Tom insisted on paying his dues.
What Tom's passing reminds me is that SETI is most likely a multi-generational pursuit. It is altogether possible that not one of us now involved in SETI science will still be sentient when success is finally achieved. Owing to his long illness, I think Tom knew this, perhaps better than the rest of us. Not that it deterred him.
Or, we could hit paydirt tomorrow (Tom would have liked that). We just don't know. Whatever success the SETI Institute achieves, whether longterm or short, is a lasting legacy to Tom Pierson's passion and tenacity. I could ask for no better a role model as I contemplate our place in the cosmos, and the brevity of our individual existence.
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this page last updated 5 April 2014
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