In memoriam
Ralph Chatham, Ph.D. Oct 15, 1948 - May 18, 2013

10 August 2013
Remembering Ralph Chatham
By Anne Thompson, personal friend & NASA scientist

As I contemplate the legacy of Ralph Chatham, it occurs to me that I knew him in two distinct ways that are worth noting and honoring.

First -- Ralph was a fellow “scientist in public service” (he a ‘chemical physicist,’ I a ‘physical chemist’). He served as a Naval Officer, then in private industry, and as I frequently heard him mention with pride, as an innovative DARPA Program Officer. Defense of our country meant lending his fertile and creative mind to find the best ideas to help the military triumph while seeding goodwill in our engagements abroad. “Paradoxical – not really,” Ralph would tell you. Two memories tell why I admired Ralph. My husband Nels and I visited Ralph & Margaret in Stony Brook when Ralph was starting his PhD with Bob DeZafra in the physics department. Ralph, a novice laser jock, characterized atmospheric formaldehyde which is both a good guy in the stratosphere and bad guy in air pollution. It took me 6 years to complete PhD lab work – meeting the Navy’s schedule, Ralph did it in half the time! Second, about the time I made my first oceanographic cruise excited to look at blue water all day, Ralph gave me a tour of his little submarine at the Groton base. I was awed that he could live, breath, and keep his cool in such a tight space! COOL was Ralph!

Second, I knew Ralph as the adoring husband of Margaret, my best friend from a small high school in New Jersey. Do you know how amazing Margaret is?! As the valedictorian, she was 10X smarter than #2 and she is still the smartest person I know. A true romantic, Margaret was looking for a soulmate and a match in intelligence. I met Ralph through the eyes of Margaret, the smitten college student, and I followed their love for more than 40 years. I remember their wedding day, when Margaret was radiant, beautiful and ready for the adventures she and Ralph would share together. The way she looked at Ralph – a look that was fully reciprocated -- and that never left her face when she spoke about him. This couple had the gift to let the other grow – Ralph the hobbyist and collector, afficianado of antique tools – Margaret the certified naturalist and native plant champion. They developed their talents together too – giving to the community in the Fairfax band and above all, in the national as well as DC storytelling community. Ralph’s talent shone – he became a legend. How loved and revered he was by all who listened. We last heard Ralph tell a story in Maryland last fall and we cheered his passion for a good tale and joy in making an audience happy. Ralph – you made all of us happy and we thank you for that.