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A celebration dinner in honour of the eightieth birthday of Dr. W. Roy Piggott was held in St. Edmund's College, Cambridge, UK on the 6 August 1994. The dinner was attended by about 75 colleagues, members of the Piggott family, and friends from all walks of life. Some had travelled considerable distances especially for the occasion. During the sherry reception, guests had a chance to read some of the many of the tributes to Roy Piggott that had been received by letter, fax and electronic mail. Much of the evening was spent with everyone telling their favourite 'Piggott story', each one almost more unbelievable than the last. However as everyone knows Piggott, then the stories were likely to be true, no matter how improbable they sounded. Roy Piggott, never one to troubled by tradition, rose after the first course, smoked salmon pate, to invite the gentlemen to remove their jackets as it the evening was very warm.
After an excellent dinner of medallians of lamb, there were three very personal reminiscences given by Les Barclay, Henry Rishbeth and John Dudeney. Each spoke their associations with Piggott over the years spanning his career from its earliest beginnings. Each speaker started their career in a different decade but there were several themes common to all tributes. They all appreciated being exposed to Piggott's questioning mind, his unorthodox approach, his ability to look at a problem from a different, angle, his unquenchable enthusiasm and his indefatigable energy.
Roy Piggott appeared deeply touched and appreciative of the words spoken and written about him, even to the extent of admitting a long-held secret to the assembled company - that he had always had a great fear of speaking in public. Those of us who know him well will agree that this fear was indeed well hidden!
In recognition of the fact that behind every great man lies an even greater woman, Allison Piggott was presented with a bouquet of flowers.
Piggott even at 80 had the stamina to outlast the majority of the guests. He was still heard discussing the merits of different types on antenna systems, the eclipse of 1937, and the scaling of near-impossible ionograms in the corridors of St Edmund's College as the witching hour approached.
In true Piggott style we hear that he and Allison now plan to embark upon a world cruise - may he return refreshed and as enthusiastic as ever to impart his vast experience and knowledge to us all.
A few reminiscences about Piggott are given below. So many were received that unfortunately some have been shortened and some omitted completely. Piggott has spent some time since the celebration, collating all the information, photographs, cards and even a message from the Queen into a couple of scrap books so he has a lasting tribute from his friends and colleagues.
"I joined Slough in August 1956 and was immediately assigned to work for Roy. I could not have wished for a better boss for he showed me great kindness and understanding of the limitations of a raw graduate who knew little more that which end of the soldering iron to use. He was always responsive to personal problems, and nothing was too much trouble to explain. (I later learned that although Roy never said he did not know the answer to any question on any subject, that sometimes his answers were wrong, but they were always worth listening to because with a critical mind they were usually pointers to the right route). Roy taught me to think which there was never time to do at College, and he sent me off on my ionospheric career which I have pursued all my working life. Thank you, Roy."
"On arrival at Slough, I was set to work on helping Roy build an absorption transmitter to go on the Magga Dan to Halley Bay Antarctica for the IGY expedition. The ship had to depart on a particular date, and preparations were hopelessly behind, so we working night and day. There was something peculiar about the final PA tuning, and some big capacitors were being fabricated in the workshop. Roy kept playing with the tuning coil, and switching the transmitter on and off. At one point, I remarked that I didn't seem to be contributing very much. He replied that I was not meant to - my job was to call the ambulance when he touched the wrong spot! Luckily for the ionospheric community, my services were not needed."
"Roy was never shy to express an opinion. I remember one occasion when a technical discussion with a colleague extended into the gentlemen's toilet. Suddenly a voice from the inner sanctum boomed forth 'Well you know why that is.....'."
"Roy always had a healthy disregard for routine administration. His advice was 'When my in-tray gets so full that it begins to topple over, I put it in a cupboard and start another one'."
"Your contribution to the world ionospheric science is greatly appreciated. We always admire your inexhaustible energy."
"I shall always appreciate your broad, original and unconventional scientific spirit, and your
engagement to the people doing routine jobs at stations, and our long lasting friendship."
"We well remember his visits to Christchurch when he showed his deep understanding of the ionosphere, and characteristically reminded us to look for what the observations were telling us, rather than thinking about pre-conceived notions, when trying to understand Mother Nature"
"Our family also has kind memories of his visits. We made an all-day trip sight-seeing over Banks Peninsula. The car's passengers included three New Zealand teenagers, who tend to express their opinions candidly. They were clearly very impressed and delighted that a world-famous scientist could so easily bridge a couple of generation gaps and chat with them as equals."
"His prime aim was to use Chinese painting technique to convey the essence of the Antarctic. He was never totally satisfied with his results, but he did achieve some success, and a great deal of pleasure."
"We have shared a lot of good times, not least of which was with the brandy bottle in his room at the end of a long hard day. I wish I had taken tape recordings during those sessions. I could have written the definitive biography of a fascinating man."
The aerial site at the Ibadan ionospheric observatory was know as 'Piggott's piece'.
"Dr Roy Piggott is a very famous and respectable man"
"Calls upon Roy's time were many and various, and in order to think in peace and quiet he used to retire to the toilet and sit in the cubicle. On walking in one day, I saw the Deputy Director of the Laboratory on his knees peering under the door saying "I know you're in there Roy, I can tell by the shoes". At that time Roy was well known for wearing somewhat battered, muddy shoes, often with a lace undone."
"During one Royal Society of London lecture, where dinner suites were worn, Roy's bow tie made a complete circumnavigation of his neck due to his enthusiastic arm movements"
"In 1963, a young lady was dispatched to catalogue and tidy all Roy's papers which were then covering the floor in large heaps. Before the clear up Roy could find any piece of paper unerringly from amongst the piles. For the next 6 months he had no idea where anything was, until he eventually re-established his unique filing system."
"Roy's talents were many. In 1976 he even played Father Christmas at a children's party at British Antarctic Survey - a very convincing performance, but his unique voice was a give away!"
"Roy Piggott - definitely a one off"
"I was Roy's personal assistant for almost 10 years from early 1942. During the war he was often away from Slough, working there only at weekends. On Monday morning, I would find a circuit diagram on my desk with a request to build it. I would make a neat and tidy breadboard model and leave it for Roy to test. The next Monday morning, I would find a bird's nest with wires all over the place and a note in his inimitably (unreadable?) script 'This should work now" which it invariably did'."
"Roy has immense energy. He had the job of finding radio propagation problems for the military. On some occasions this would involve 24 h schedule for which Roy would insist on doing the entire night shift in a wooden hut in North Park. I well remember arriving on a cold and frosty morning to be welcomed by Roy in the cosy soup smelling atmosphere, in which the coke stove needed almost constant attention. No problem for Roy at the end of the shift; he would jump onto his bicycle, the one with the wicker basket on the front, for his 6 mile journey to Uxbridge. On one occasion, Roy collided with the resident bull in the blackout. There is no record over who was more surprised."
"Had I known more about Piggott, I might not have been misled by his quiet air for this provide to hide an unexpected resource. Shortly after the war, for example, he and his wife had problems cutting their baby's nails, because, whenever they tried to do so, the baby screamed her head off. One night they heard a bump, and rushed into the baby's room, to find that she had climbed out of her cot and fallen on the floor, knocking herself unconscious. Before Piggott went for the doctor he said, 'Here's our chance' and cut the baby's nails."
During a meeting with IPS operators, Roy was faced with an apparently ordinary looking ionogram that an operator felt held a mystery. Roy took this seriously, looked carefully at the ionogram, and over a significant period teased out the issues, used additional ionograms, and built an impressive explanation of what was happening. This revealed an understandable, but by no means obvious interpretation for the ionogram. The operator had been quite correct to puzzle over it, and we in the audience were impressed to the point of speechlessness. In the silence that followed, Roy looked around and said 'You know when I gave a description like that to people in America, they normally applaud'. A lone voice from the audience quietly said 'Yes, I can understand that!'."
We would like to thank all those who sent tributes, and gifts to Piggott. It was a tremendous statement of appreciation by the scientific community; a community to which he has contributed so richly. Piggott was clearly touched by the affection shown by so many from around the world.
Piggott's only personal secretary and Piggott's last
student - Mary and Alan Rodger.
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