In Memoriam: Henry Thomas Perkins

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The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of MIT/WHOI Joint Program graduate Henry Thomas Perkins on June 10 at his home in Bristol Mills, ME, with his three children by his side, after a decade-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.  He was 78.

Hank, as he was known to his friends, was born in Rahway, N.J., and soon after moved to his father’s hometown of Penobscot, ME. He attended the one-room school across from his home, was the only student in his calculus class at Blue Hill High School, dug peat in the bogs, raked low-bush blueberries, and delivered milk (to E.B. White’s house no less).

Through earning a scholarship and working as a busboy in the cafeteria, Hank was able to graduate with a BS in mathematics from MIT in 1960, followed by a MS in mathematics from NYU in 1964, and a PhD in Physical Oceanography through the joint program with WHOI and MIT in 1970.  From 1970 to 1971, he was a post-doctorate fellow at the Marine Physics Section of the Institut fur Meereskunde in Kiel, Germany.

From 1971 through 1978, he was assistant professor of Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami.  From 1979 to 1989, he conducted oceanographic research for the Navy with NORDA/NOARL at the Stennis Space Center, MS. In 1989, he took up a position as principal scientist at NATO’s SACLANT Undersea Research Centre in La Spezia, Italy, where for five years he worked as chief scientist on board the oceanographic research vessel, Alliance, and interpreted data picked up by Barny, a trawl-safe underwater data recorder he co-created. He later returned to the Stennis Space Center where he remained until his retirement in 2004, when he volunteered his time and expertise at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole. Throughout his career he traveled the world, collaborating with like minds in Barbados, Africa, Iceland, numerous European countries, the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, Japan, South Korea, and the Sea of Japan.

Hank was a quiet, modest, unassuming, nonjudgmental gentleman with a wonderful dry sense of humor.  He was a scientist, seaman, researcher, and explorer who spent his life searching for the truth about the physical world.  He possessed a brilliant mind, though he never felt the need for people to know that and rarely spoke about his accomplishments.

His hobbies were gardening, walking the trails of Maine, woodworking, listening to Bach, reading and reciting poetry, making top-notch martinis and staying up to date with the latest research on the brain and the universe.

He will be dearly missed by all who knew him.

Henry was predeceased by his father James Perkins; mother Marguerite Perkins Rowe; stepfather Virgil Rowe; brother-in-law Dana Jones; and stepson Stefano Luisi.

He leaves behind his loving wife of 20 years, Catherine of Bristol Mills, ME; three children – Bethany (Peter Lamson) of Spartanburg, S.C., Adam (Leyla) of Covington, L.A., and Jordan Bailey (Michael) of Brookline, N.H. Seven grandchildren – Mina, Alexander, Keating, Zahra, Cora, Henry, and Ellis; first wife Valerie Perkins of Slidell, L.A.; stepdaughter Moira Luisi (Alessandro Paulin) and step-grandson Ian of Montemarcello, Italy; and his sister, Barbara Jones of Bucksport, and her extended family.

Henry’s remains will be buried privately in the family plot in Penobscot.  A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.  In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to the organization Compassion and Choices – a cause in which he was particularly engaged.

Information for this obituary is from The Ellsworth American.

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