Employee Portrait Gallery—Barbara Gaffron

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Barbara Gaffron and Val Worthington share a greeting at a Physical Oceanography Department party where Val handed the department chairmanship over to Nick Fofonoff in 1981. Val and Nick were two department chairs that Barbara served as staff assistant. Current department chair Nelson Hogg, who was assisted by Barbara in his capacity as editor of the Journal of Physical Oceanography, characterizes her as “always a pleasure to work with. Her meticulous attention to detail, her artist's eye, her fine grasp of scientific jargon and her expert knowledge of English grammar added greatly to any of my written work that passed through her hands. In addition, we almost daily shared some observation on the natural world, which she often depicts in her wonderful watercolors.” (Photo by Shelley Dawicki)

 

When Barbara Gaffron followed her father and grandfather to Brown University in 1957, she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to be a scientist or an artist, so she majored in both chemistry and art. Then she moved on to Rhode Island School of Design for a degree in apparel design. After a short stint with a sportswear company in Boston, she decided the “rag trade” wasn’t for her, and she spent the next six years as a research technician for a Boston University molecular biologist. A sabbatical for the scientist left Barbara without a job, so she and her photographer husband relocated to a family house in Falmouth.

Barbara joined the Physical Oceanography Department in 1972, where she stayed until retiring in 2001. After life in the big city, “I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven,” Barbara says. “People were so friendly, always greeting one another in the hallways whether we knew one another or not.”  Eloise Soderland, then department administrator, brought Barbara in to help with typing proposals, manuscripts, and other texts. Barbara says that Eloise had firm ideas about how things should be done. “She was a real mentor for me,” Barbara says, “always thinking about how to do the best for the scientists and the department. Those were the days of typing and retyping on manual typewriters, so we were glad to see the Wang system when it arrived in 1978.” Barbara was one of the first WHOI people to spend a few days in Boston learning to use the new word processor. “It was great to be able to make small changes easily, especially for someone like Bill Schmitz, who was a constant tweaker.”

In addition to preparing manuscripts, Barbara enjoyed working on special projects. One of these was a collection of “Starbuck” columns written by Henry Stommel for the Falmouth Enterprise between 1957 and 1985. When Henry’s friends decided to publish them in a memorial book, Barbara volunteered to search them out in the paper’s archives and then prepare them for publication. With titles including “’Foolish’ Traffic Light Starts Mr. Stommel’s Friend to Ponder” and “Remembering the Woods Hole Follies,” they provided an interesting change of pace. Barbara says she also enjoyed assisting scientists for whom English was a second language in writing their papers, and serving as editorial assistant for Nelson Hogg when he was editor of the Journal of Physical Oceanography.

Barbara notes that opportunities that allowed her some time away from her land-bound desk were a treat, especially her one oceanographic cruise—six weeks as a watch stander aboard R/V Moana Wave from Honolulu to Costa Rica in 1989.

While working at WHOI, Barbara kept up her artistic interests, including silk painting and photography, and now, following retirement, she is enjoying more time to spend on them.

 

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