The Passing of Joanne Simpson - Meteorologist, Scientist, Extraordinary Woman
1923 - 1910
I was saddened the other day to hear of Joanne Simpson's passing. This blog today is dedicated to her life, her memory and her legacy.
The first time I heard about Joanne Simpson, I was told she is a meteorologist who was married to Bob Simpson. I thought, my gosh... "Can you imagine she is married to Bob Simpson who was Director of the National Hurricane Center!" Eventually, I came to think of Bob Simpson as the man who was lucky enough to be Joanne Simpson's husband.
You see over time I became friends with people who work at the Hurricane Center and who have spent their lives doing research on hurricanes. They told me personal stories of Joanne. I saw their love and respect for her, they asked me to sign a Get Well card for her when she was very ill a few years back, my brain became filled with stories of her doing cloud seeding projects, raising a family as well continuing in her career, her work on TRIMM and came to think of her as the first woman who attained a Doctorate in Meteorology. I didn't know what to write. I wished her a speedy, complete recovery and prayed she would have one.
I pictured her as Dr. William Gray described her as a young woman in a crop duster in Africa taking off from a bad runway into bad weather with other meteorologists who developed bad stomachs and yet she persevered to crawl through the belly of the plane raising her camera to window height to snap pictures of the clouds. Visions of Raiders of the Lost Ark and adventures in a time long ago filled my mind. Over time I saw with my eyes a woman who was small with short hair and reminded me of Leah Adler (Steven Spielberg's mother) who was my friend and always inspired me to go after your dreams. A tough, focused lady who knew what she wanted and yet had a hear of gold. A woman who didn't let things stop her.
I wrote about her in 2006 in this blog after attending a hurricane conference and had the privilege of sitting around with some of the best in the field and listening to them tell stories of Joanne, as she lay in a hospital unable to attend the conference and sorely missed by those who had hoped to hear her speak and loved her.
She was quoted as saying: "I have experienced three difference classes of sex-linked problems in my lifetime. The first is discrimination simply from being a woman. The second comprises difficulties from being a married woman. The third arises from being a mother" and yet... she didn't let it stop her from achieving in her lifetime all the things she achieved as a wife, as a mother and as the cream of the crop of Tropical Meteorologists.
Joanne Simpson was President of the American Meteorological Society and was the chief scientist of so many projects it is impossible to list them all and to me the list is not the point ... the point is she is a woman who did not let being a woman stop her. She is a woman who did not let being a mother stop her.. nor a wife. She was unstoppable until a few days ago when she succumbed to an ongoing illness and left a legacy of her work and research that continues to be ongoing. Every time I look at a hot tower in a hurricane I will think of Joanne.
I will remember her as I saw her once walking up the aisle talking to someone and I had no idea she was Joanne Simpson until someone told me who she was... before that she just looked to me like some excited, bubbly woman talking to old friends, dressed casually and looking not like I imagined. Appearances can be deceiving.
She was a giant in her field. It's easy to say that a woman with her brain could have gone into medicine, discovered the cure for cancer or made millions of dollars. Possibly she did more... as meteorologists who work for the government are grossly underpaid and often discover facts that help protect the multitudes. We owe them and yet we rarely hear about them as they continue their work every day quietly.
Bob Simpson, her husband, was Director of the National Hurricane Center. To a generation his name was synonymous with hurricanes. He is the Simpson in the Saffir-Simpson scale.
Now days I simply think of him as Joanne Simpson's husband.
My heart goes out to him and many of his colleagues who spent a lifetime studying what they love together with Joanne who was always easy to pick out in pictures as she was in those days "the woman" in the pictures.
Today, many women go on to receive Doctorates in Meteorology and they soar through the clouds into hurricanes in Hurricane Hunter aircraft.
I am sure somewhere Joanne's spirit is soaring through those clouds that she loved so much and we will miss her presence down here on Earth.
Ps Some biographies and statements with lists of her many awards below: