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In Memoriam: Johanna Noordam (1946-2017)

Submitter: Oleg Smirnov
Description: Today we mourn the passing of a great woman, who has become very special to our little community of astronomers.

Many a bewildered foreigner, lost and lonely in the cold, dark and rainy steppes of the Dwingelderveld, has found a welcoming light and convivial company at Jan and Johanna's home in Pesse. The weekly Wednesday bridge sessions, running practically uninterrupted for 25 years from the early 1990's became an astronomical institution in its own right. Johanna was at the centre of it, hosting, welcoming, and patiently inducting new and green arrivals into the mysteries of the game. Of course, the bridge was but a pretext to the deep conversations afterwards.

Moving to (or even just visiting) a new country, or even just a new job in a new place, is always an uprooting and disconcerting experience -- the Wednesday bridge became the first social port of call for many new arrivals at ASTRON and JIVE, and fostered an invaluable atmosphere of community and inclusiveness. As people have moved on to many different corners of the world, some of them have taken the tradition with them, and thus the Pesse bridge evenings spawned "splinter cells" across all continents (save, perhaps, Antarctica -- though we do know of at least one Johanna-trained bridge regular that has set foot there!) In the process, Johanna became a surrogate mother to many of us.

Another famous event hosted by Johanna, the annual Softball Game, became the social highlight of the brief Dutch summer. With the ranks of the regulars bolstered by the arrival of the summer students, it was always a large and unruly crowd that needed to be fed and rehydrated after their exertions on the field. While Johanna was seemingly fully engaged in the party, finding the time to speak to everyone and put the new arrivals at ease, vast amounts of food streamed out of the kitchen on their own accord, and replenishment bottles apparated on side tables. Like all deep magic, this appeared to be entirely effortless.

Today, every time zone probably features at least one astronomer, or just a friend, who has been affected by Johanna's kindness, and who remembers her with gratitude and joy. She has left the best possible legacy, one on which the Sun never sets. We miss you, Johanna.

The picture shows Johanna and Jan at the wedding of their eldest son, only a few weeks ago. After that, the illness that left her unable to speak, read or write, rapidly finished its course, releasing her from her cruel state.
Copyright: Wedding Photography Haarlem
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