Mr. Wally passed away at 6:30am yesterday morning. He had been in the hospital but was expected to go home. However, infection set in.
The impact Mr. Wally had on local amateur skygazing is incalculable. Spending a great deal of his earlier life in Ohio and California, and having obtained a degree in geology, he arrived in Baton Rouge with his wife Zoe in the early 1970s. He was a Sales Manager for the Stupp Corporation for several years.
During a trip to the now-defunct observatory in Clinton, he met Craig Brenden. Both agreed it was time for a Baton Rouge astronomy club (there had been a short-lived one decades earlier). The Baton Rouge Astronomical Society was founded by them in 1981 and they were joined immediately and within the first few years by valuable members Bob Sinitiere (BRAS' longest-serving Treasurer), Merrill Hess and Walt Cooney. Wally helped draft the Society's first bylaws, and took part in BRAS' well-attended public viewing of Halley's Comet during that object's last return in 1986. Wally also gave important support to BRAS' successful request for 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. In 1987 Wally (along with Merrill and David Taylor) fashioned a new type of photographic platform that facilitated the acquisition of space images.
The idea for a permanent, in-town, professional-grade astronomical observatory had its genesis in a phone call between BRAS member Melanie Hair and LSU astrophysicist Greg Guzik. The idea was pursued by Merrill, Walt and Greg after Melanie moved away. For the initial purchase of the fifty-centimeter reflecting telescope from Pennsylvania-based Optical Guidance Systems, Greg obtained state monies (I believe from the Board of Regents) earmarked for what we now call STEM. The trio approached then-BREC Superintendent Eugene Young with the proposal to place the observatory on Highland Road Park property from which BRAS already had permission to observe. Young had recently received a building donation from a businessman who had used the structure as a golf pro shop.
So it can be seen easily that the Highland Road Park Observatory, with all its regular programs, its now-famous special events (the 2003 very
close pass of Mars, the 2012 Transit of Venus) and the asteroid discoveries (mainly by Walt), has a lineage directly traced to the enthusiasm held by Wally and Mr. Craig.
But Wally Pursell's involvement with HRPO didn't stop there. For several years he served as Nighttime Center Supervisor during public viewing times on the weekends. Before that, he hosted twice-monthly solar viewings on Saturdays using his own telescope (this was back before HRPO had the Coronado Solar Max II). He was very vocal in his disapproval of the IAU's decision to create a separate category of "dwarf planet" and to move Pluto to that list. His tongue-in-cheek tombstone for Pluto can still be seen on the north wall of HRPO's main floor.
He created a compass on HRPO's front viewing pad to assist newcomers and beginners not familiar with Polaris and the Big Dipper. He was a volunteer for countless public offerings at HRPO. He also volunteered enthusiastically for BRAS at events such as Earth Day, Rockin' at the Swamp and the Balloon Festival (originally sponsored by Pennington). He showed support in person when BRAS approached local governmental entities such as the Baker City Council and the Federation of Civic Associations, arguing for the changeout to full-cut-off streetlamps and porch lights (which would save taxpayer money and fossil fuels and diminish the degradation of the natural night sky). He also enthusiastically backed BRAS member Trevor McGuire's idea to donate an Orion XT6 Dobsonian telescope to the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. He even assisted with science fair projects, showing students the safe and accurate way to construct different sections of a homemade telescope.
Mr. Wally was a proud Eagle Scout who kept both his and his father's badges and awards in pristine condition, and encouraged other young men to earn as many Scout badges as they could. At least one year he was part of the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center "Samaritan's Circle". He also had a mug collection with dozens (if not hundreds) of mugs.
His last of several golden retrievers, Henry, was the unofficial HRPO mascot for several years.
Mr. Wally always had excellent advice and encourage for me in my pursuit to help promote skygazing and responsible nighttime lighting. He cannot be replaced but I know he wants the hobby of astronomy to continue for decades to come. So, that will continue to be our goal.
Mr. Wally's "Legacy" Guestbook:http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/theadvocate/wallace-pursell-condolences/183224987?cid=full