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In Memoriam: Mary Margaret Hunt

Mary Margaret Hunt

Media Relations Office

media@whoi.edu

March 11, 2013

(508) 289-3340

The Institution has received word of the death of retiree Mary Hunt on March 7, in Falmouth. She was 88.

Mary was born in Cambridge, MA, the second of five children of Charles Cummings and Margaret (Grandgent) Gifford. Her early years were spent in Bedford, MA, where her parents ran a chicken farm. In 1938, due to her father's poor health, they returned to Cambridge and her mother began teaching to help support the family. Her mother's career culminated 26 years later when she founded the Gifford School, now in Weston, MA.

Mary graduated from Radcliffe College in 1946 with a degree in mathematics, and took a job as a research assistant at WHOI, working for Al Woodcock and others.  Mary made lifelong friends and cherished her memories of her early years at WHOI.

It was also at WHOI that Mary met her husband, Otis Eugene Hunt, who had joined the staff in 1945. They married in 1949, and in 1951, Mary left work to raise her children. In 1959, she and fifteen others founded the Unitarian Fellowship of Falmouth (now the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth); she taught Sunday school for many years and served three times as President of the Fellowship during its first twenty years.  In 1962 she was elected a Trustee of the Falmouth Public Library, serving as treasurer from 1969 until she stepped down in 1974.

In 1966 Otis Hunt died of cancer, and in September 1967, Mary returned to WHOI.  It is a mark of the high regard of the WHOI community for both Otis and Mary that she was approached with two job offers.  She accepted Mel Rosenfeld’s offer to join the Information Processing Center (IPC) as a computer programmer, intuitively feeling it would be a good fit for her.  From the start, she had tremendous zest for her work and over the years contributed to a wide variety of projects. Her programs were often in the background supporting scientific achievements and she had many satisfied customers among the scientific staff at WHOI.  She also taught programming classes to staff, as the Institution’s computing moved from the central IPC to individual research groups. 

One of Mary’s notable accomplishments was a series of programs she created to improve the process of calibrating ocean bottom acoustic transponder nets (used to navigate devices in the deep ocean). She wrote a technical report on the work, which was often requested and much referenced; her colleagues called it “Mary’s best seller.” It detailed an innovative and no-nonsense way to do the calibration and also to evaluate the quality of the result. As part of this work, in 1984 she participated in an engineering test cruise on R/V Knorr where the software was used to navigate various tethered vehicles involved in sea floor exploration.

George Power, a colleague and supervisor from the 1970s and 80s has written about Mary:  "Year in and year out, she has consistently produced an incredibly large amount of high quality work, often of a technically difficult nature:  I have long considered Mary to be someone to whom I could assign any computer job with the knowledge that it would be competently executed in a timely fashion.  She almost never requires any supervision.  Among her noteworthy accomplishments are:

1. TIMSAN -A widely used time series analysis package.

2. PROSPECT - Conversion of TIMSAN to the VAX, which incorporates several improvements to the original package.

3. SAIL - Mary wrote most of the software for the SAIL [Serial ASCII Instrumentation Loop] data acquisition system.

4. CTD Data Processing - a set of programs for processing CTD [Conductivity, Temperature, Depth] data on the Hewlett-Packard RTE system.

5. MATHOP - Performs mathematical operations on Buoy data.

6. ACNAV - Mary did most of the original programming for the Acoustic Navigation System.

7. Data Base Management - Mary has become very proficient at designing and implementing data base systems using several DBMS packages such as SEED, dBASEII, etc.”

Skip Little, manager of the Computer and Information Services group during much of Mary's career at WHOI, adds:  "She has written complex, nearly flawless, computer programs (and the associated documentation) in many programming languages, from machine language high speed A-to-D [analog-to-digital] drivers on the Sigma-7 and HP computers, to sophisticated data base applications on the Sigma, VAX, and NEC APCs, to vectorized seismic simulation programs on the CYBER 205 Super-computer.  Often she has worked on several such diverse projects at one time, while simultaneously teaching a FORTRAN class, or filling in as Programming/Analysis Supervisor."

Dana Yoerger, a senior scientist in the Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering department at WHOI emphasizes that Mary’s ACNAV system played an indispensible role in the discovery of the RMS Titanic by Robert Ballard in 1985. Yoerger, an authority on autonomous underwater vehicles and undersea navigation, mentions that Mary’s technical report on ACNAV has been cited nearly 100 times in scientific and technical literature since its inception in 1974. (See WHOI-74-6 on the Web)

Ralph Stephen, a senior scientist in the Geology and Geophysics department, recalls working with Mary in the 1980s, developing computer codes for numerically solving the elastic wave equation for heterogeneous media including fluid-solid interfaces like the seafloor.  Since the code was very computationally intensive for realistic size models, it was implemented on two "Class VI" computers, the Cyber-205 at Purdue University and the Cray XMP-12 at the Naval Research Laboratory.  At that time, these were among the fastest computers in the world that were accessible for scientific computing.  She co-authored two WHOI technical reports on this work as well as a user's manual for the MIT Earth Resources Laboratory.  Stephen says:  "We are still using code that she wrote.  She was very intelligent, very professional and very pleasant to work with. She made a quiet but significant impression on all of those who had the privilege to know and work with her."  

Her retirement from WHOI in 1988 as a research specialist allowed Mary to pursue several long-standing interests. After earning a certificate in Field Botany from the New England Wild Flower Society, she took part in the Falmouth Conservation Commission’s study of vernal pools, and collected and annotated specimens for the MBLWHOI Library Herbarium.  Long interested in family history, she became a member of the Falmouth Genealogical Society and as treasurer helped the Society in its early years to find its footing.  Mary had an adventurous spirit; highlights of her many travels during these years were an Outward Bound course in the Everglades and an Earthwatch expedition to Easter Island, a place that had long fascinated her. 

Mary is survived by her older brother, David Gifford of Williamsburg, MA; her children, Susan Gibbs Hunt of Cambridge, Harold Otis Hunt of Anchorage, Alaska, and Barbara Gifford Callahan of Falmouth; and grandchildren Mary Elizabeth Hunt of Anchorage, Adam Otis Callahan, and Brian Patrick Callahan of Falmouth. Her daughter, Margaret Cushing Hunt, passed away in 2008.

A Memorial Service for Mary will be held on Monday, May 13, at 2:00 p.m., at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth, 840 Sandwich Road, East Falmouth, MA.

Donations in Mary's memory can be made to the Friends of the Falmouth Public Library, P.O. Box 480, Falmouth, MA 02541.

Some of the information for the obituary was taken from the Cape Cod Times.

 

Originally published: March 11, 2013