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In memoriam Roel Gathier 1953-2016

Submitter: Harry van der Laan
Description: We have lost dr. Roel Gathier, managing director of ASTRON's sister institute SRON, manager and leader in the Dutch astronomy community, specifically in space research, gifted communicator. Roel is survived by his wife Wilma, his adult children Celine, Wouter and Anouk and his brothers Henk and Bas. They all spoke movingly and with depths of feeling at the memorial meeting in Leiden on March 18th. Roel's death is a devastating reality.

Roel became a public figure early in his career. A TELEAC television course consisting of thirteen public TV hours, telecast twice each week in 1980, and repeated in 1981 under the title Moderne Sterrenkunde (Modern Astronomy) was designed and directed by HvdL. He engaged two senior astronomy students for the two major roles in this enterprise: Niek de Kort from Leiden Observatory and Roel Gathier from Amsterdam's Pannekoek Institute. The three of us worked together intensely, advised by a TELEAC team of television professionals.

Niek wrote the course book, chapter after extensive chapter, and Roel wrote the corresponding TV script based on Niek's chapters. Harry edited both and involved one prominent expert from the Dutch astronomy community on the subject of each lesson. This production method assured up-to-date quality. Crucial in the series' remarkable success was Roel's presentation talent (see the picture), his unassuming, yet sparkling approach, his friendly, encouraging manner of introducing difficult materials and concepts. According to the official kijkcijfers (ratings) we reached a quarter of a million people and sold all of the 33 000 copies of Niek's splendid 450 page book. The registration for first year astronomy shot upward, and many a Dutch astronomy professional today originates from the course.

Roel became a Bekende Nederlander, and that aura never left him. After completing his Masters and PhD in Astronomy at Utrecht and Groningen respectively, Roel's first job was as a civil servant at the Ministry of Onderwijs en Wetenschappen (MinO&W) with special responsibility for relations with governmental and intergovernmental organizations. He was instrumental in helping Richard Schilizzi and other VLBI astronomers, in securing a major Dutch contribution to the EVN correlator at JIVE, Dwingeloo. Roel also organised and brokered various key events, including the meeting in Den Haag in which the Netherlands, France, Sweden and the UK agreed to establish JIVE.

The pinnacle of his impressive career is his chairmanship of ESA's Science Program Committee (SPC), Europe's foremost policy unit in space science. His much too early passing is a blow to the SPC, to SRON, to our astronomy and space science community at large, and to his innumerable friends.
Copyright: HvdL
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