On Saturday, December 13, Alexander R. Cross, known to his friends as Sandy, passed away in
The fine obituary article by David Bly in the Calgary Herald and the Herald's editorial have extolled Sandy's important contributions to the community, primarily his and Anne's donation of a major gift of land for the Cross Conservancy.
The University of Calgary's Rothney Astrophysical Observatory too, has been a beneficiary and this has been acknowledged, but what has been expressed thus far can not describe the extent of the Cross's generosity.
The Cross family have been patrons of the university and of science and education on a scale that parallels the beneficence of Renaissance nobility.
On four separate occasions, the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, named for Sandy's mother's family, received his help.
The first occasion was Sandy's donation of a quarter section of land in Turner Valley, which
became the site of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory,
and sufficient land to enable the University to maintain the facility by leasing land outside the telescopes compound for farming use.
This gift thus simultaneously enabled the RAO to get its start and provided a means to keep it running.
Provincial matching funds then permitted purchase of the first building (which became a laboratory, lecture venue, and classroom), an observing terrace stocked with telescope mountings for class use, and a research-grade 16-inch (mirror diameter) telescope, with which both the training of astrophysics majors and astronomical research could be carried out.
It was on this 16-in telescope that Alan Clark, Director Emeritus of the RAO, narrowly missed being credited with the discovery of 5-minute oscillations on the Sun, and on which the Rapid Alternate Detection System, arguably the astronomy world's best photometric instrument, was developed.
The second came on the heels of a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research
Council. The grant for $200,000 was for an infrared telescope, but this came with no funds for a
building to house it.
In response to a 5-year funding proposal to complete the funding of the RAO, Sandy and Anne, through the Cross Educational Foundation, provided sufficient funds to enable the dome and support building to be completed to house the telescope, an innovative alt-alt mounted instrument to provide maximum available sky for investigation at Calgary's high latitude.
Matching funds again provided equipment in the form of infrared and optical cameras.
After the dedication ceremony in 1987, at which Sandy greatly enjoyed controlling the telescope, his sister, Mary Dover, held a reception for the distinguished guests at the dedication.
The third occasion arose when an astronomical consortium offered to pay for half the costs of
figuring and polishing a new generation optical telescope mirror of 1.8-m, which we had acquired
as an eventual replacement for the metal 1.5-m mirror with which the project was begun.
The metal mirror was adequate to collect light for a single detector, but its imaging characteristics were not superb, when used with newer imaging arrays.
The Crosses provided the necessary seed funding, again matched by the province, that enabled the project to go ahead. With this upgraded telescope, observations carried out by summer students have helped to establish a new infrared filter system, one that is less sensitive to water vapour in the atmosphere.
In 1997, the improved 1.8-m telescope was commissioned as the Alexander R. Cross Telescope
(ARCT), and we together celebrated the RAO's 25th anniversary.
Finally, in 2003, the Crosses again provided a critical contribution towards the RAO's
development that allowed a new Visitors' Centre to replace the old classroom.
At every stage, the Cross's contributions have had a multiplicative effect through matching and shared funding programs. Building on this legacy, nearly three quarters of a million dollars have been received through provincial partnership funding programs in the past two years to automate the telescopes and enable the RAO to broaden its horizons.
A generation of students at all levels have benefited from Sandy's generosity and that of his
The public has benefited from eight years of Open House events at the RAO, most recently in September, 2003, when they saw and heard about the close approach of the planet Mars.
When the new Visitors' Centre opens in summer, 2004, and webcasts of illustrated talks are transmitted across the internet, and school children throughout the province are able to access the telescopes to make their own observations, Sandy's legacy will again be remembered.
E. F. Milone, Professor & RAO Director, Department of Physics and Astronomy
and R. B. Hicks, Head, Department of Physics and Astronomy
December 21, 2003
This tribute was originally drafted as a letter to the Calgary Herald. We reproduce it here, in slightly altered form.