July 09, 1923 - March 15, 2019
Norman A. Phillips, 95, died peacefully at Grace House, Windham, NH on Friday, March 15, 2019. He had lived at Grace House since suffering a stroke 2 years ago. Norman was predeceased by his beloved wife Martha (Nissen) Phillips, his daughter Ruth Walsh, and sister Alice (Phillips) Westphal. He was the son of Alton Elmer Anton Phillips and Linnea (Larson) Phillips. Mr. Phillips is survived by daughters Janet Grigsby and her husband Phillip and Ellen Chasse and her husband Dennis. He is also survived by grandsons Stephen Walsh and wife Stefanie, Matthew Grigsby, Christopher Grigsby, Derek Chasse and wife Jessica, and Keith Chasse, plus great grandchildren, Ryan and Riley Walsh and Morgan and Travis Chasse, all of whom gave him great delight.
Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Phillips entered the University of Chicago in 1940 planning to study chemistry. He left Chicago to enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II. After some months of training in meteorology, he was stationed in the Portuguese Azores, working with men desperately trying to create, by hand, good forecasts for the Allied forces. These years sparked a lifelong passion for improved weather forecasting. After the War, he returned to Chicago to get his BS and then PhD in meteorology. His path breaking dissertation studies led to a long series of developments that facilitated the reliable forecasts on which we depend today. In 1951, Phillips joined the group at John von Neumann’s Electronic Computer Project at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, developing and running forecast programs on one of the earliest computers. In 1956, he moved to the meteorology department at MIT, eventually chairing the department until he again moved, this time, in 1974, to the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, MD. He continued his research developing complex weather forecasting models, now requiring the use of supercomputers, and culminating in the Nested Grid Model or NGM. By the time of his 1984 retirement, the NGM had become affectionately known as Norm’s Great Model. It continued in use until well into the 2000’s.
In 1971, Phillips was awarded the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal by the American Meteorological Society, its highest honor. In 1976, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the USA. In 2003, the Franklin Institute awarded Phillips and his lifelong friend and colleague Joseph Smagorinsky the Benjamin Franklin Medal in earth science in recognition of their seminal contributions to development of computer models of weather and climate. The award also noted that they developed the first observational network and method for gathering and assimilating the data needed for good weather forecasting.
Phillips actively served on many scientific organizations and committees, including, among others, the Atmospheric Science Panels of the President’s Science Advisory Committee and the National Science Foundation, the Evaluation and Goals Committee of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment Scientific Panel, and the U.S. Panel for the First GARP Global Experiment. In 1953, Phillips spent 6 months in Stockholm writing a numerical forecast program for the Swedish Air Force. With other meteorologists, he participated in the first post-war scientific meeting in Tokyo, Japan, in 1960. In 1980, he advised NOAA on its new satellite system. Advising also led to trips to Leningrad, Moscow, Lisbon, Hangzhou (China) and London. In Hangzhou, he collaborated on a report for the World Meteorological Organization on the likely consequences of nuclear war. He was particularly grateful to have been a part of 1964 and 1965 Commission for Dynamic Meteorology meetings in Leningrad and Moscow, during the heat of the cold war.
As a young man, Phillips was also an accomplished French horn player, having met his beloved Martha when they both performed for an operetta in Chicago. He took up the horn again later in life, playing in groups both in Camp Springs and when they retired to Merrimack, NH. In Merrimack, Norman pursued a number of community activities for which he now had the time. He was tireless raising money for the Exchange Club’s high school scholarship program. As a member of the Merrimack Town Budget Committee, he worked hard to help solve the town’s problems of trash collection. He remained an avid reader and had a particular fascination with Scandinavia and the history of his Swedish ancestors.
Phillips stayed mentally adept well into his eighties, publishing his last professional paper, on the Foucault pendulum, at the age of 90. He will be remembered by family, friends and former colleagues and students for his mischievous sense of humor, his intellect, his great integrity and his deep commitment to the wellbeing of this earth we all inhabit. During the last decade, Norman and Martha were ably cared for by their youngest daughter Ellen, for which the rest of the family expresses their gratitude.
A memorial celebration of Norman’s life will be held at the Rivet Funeral Home, 425 Daniel Webster Highway, Merrimack on Saturday June 29th, 2019 at 11 AM.
The family invites memorial donations to either the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research or to the American Meteorological Society.