LYMAN SPITZER JR.

June 26, 1914–March 31, 1997


BY JEREMIAH P. OSTRIKER


ONE OF THE LEADING THEORETICAL astrophysicists of the 20th century, Lyman Spitzer showed a renaissance or even a classical figure in both his character and personal style. I once speculated that a biographer would someday remark on the importance of Spitzer’s early exposure to ancient literature, and his family assured me that he had been, in fact, throughout his life strongly influenced by classical, especially Latin, models. If ever I have known an individual who fit the renaissance ideal of the gentleman scholar (based, of course, on earlier Latin archetypes), it was Lyman. The upright bearing, courteous speech, clarity, and total independence of mind were the dress of a person seemingly dropped into our midst from another age. Born in 1914 into a prosperous Toledo, Ohio, commercial family, he later married into the local, still wealthier clan of the Canadays. After Scott High School in Toledo and then Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, he received his B.A. at Yale in 1935, went to Cambridge University for a year (1935-1936), and there he was influenced by Arthur Eddington and Subramanian Chandrasekhar (an almost contemporary). Returning to the United States, he received his Ph.D. at Princeton under the legendary Henry Norris Russell (in 1938). Spitzer then went briefly to Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow, followed by a



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