Remembrances of Dorrit Hoffleit

The following messages were either posted to the AAVSO Discussion Group or emailed to the AAVSO. If you would like to post a message, please email it to

We have been informed by Bill van Altena that Dorrit Hoffleit passed away yesterday afternoon after a brief illness. She was alert and happy at her 100th birthday party in March, where it was my great pleasure to meet her again.

We will be creating a web page for her in the next day or so, and will pass on any additional information as we find it out.

I loved her cheerful outlook and work ethic that kept her productive despite advancing years. What a remarkable person, and role model for us all.
—Bill Dillon

This is sad news, but she will remain an inspiration. One of the distinct priviledges of being an AAVSO member was the opprtunity to meet and interact with her through the years. I am quite astonished that she lived past 100 years, yet remained sharp and scientifically active to the end. May we all live so well!

She will remain an inspiration to me personally, we have lost a great one.
—Mario Motta

I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by her shortly after I joined the Montreal Centre of the RASC back in 1957, shortly after she became director of Maria Mitchell Observatory. I had the even greater pleasure of reminiscing with her about that lecture 42 years later at the 1999 Spring Meeting in Toronto. A great lady of great charm.
—Geoff Gaherty

I don't normally comment on these events, but Dorrit was such an inspirational person that I feel compelled.

I met Dorrit at my first AAVSO meeting in the fall of 2001. I was amazed when this seemingly frail elderly lady [after all, she was 93 at the time] got up in front of the group and made an oral presentation on data-mining for VS's using some of the new available databases. Most 93 year old's woudn't know the difference between data mining from Shinola. While most other presenters used CRT projection and PowerPoint presentation, Dorrit used an overhead projector and b/w transparencies. It didn't seem to slow her down any. While others used a laser pointer to highlight their work on the screen, Dorrit used her cane! After inquiring about just who this nonagenarian was, I became intrigued with the amount of history [both astronomical and world] that Dorrit had lived through. About the time Dorrit was starting her journey through astronomy, the Belgian priest Georges Lematre theorized that the universe began with the explosion of a primeval atom. I wonder what Dorrit's first impression was upon hearing the theory the Big Bang theory back in 1927. 80 years later, we launch satellites that map the intensity of that explosion with great precision.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants to achieve our own goals. We all live our lives only subtly aware that the knowledge and technology we daily take for granted was acquired at no small cost and with no nugatory amount of work by those that have gone before us. Some have made minor contributions while the contributions of others has been gigantic. It is obvious that Dorrit was a 110 pound giant!

We sat together at the final banquet that October evening and I found that Dorrit was quite an unassuming person for all of her accomplishments. When prodded by others that new better than I, she would recount interesting stories of her colleagues and of the AAVSO. Her fascinating autobiography showed that she could tell a good story with the best of them.

God, please accept the soul of this 110 pound giant.
—Donn Starkey

I am so sorry to hear of her passing. She was prolific in her work and in her kindnesses. It was my great pleasure to share a breakfast table with her at the annual AAVSO meeting a few years ago. Even if I had never met her, I will miss her presence, like that of Janet Mattei's, in the world.
—Thom Gandet

We really are seeing a changing of the guard. Janet, then Martha, now Dorrit. Of course, all things are impermanent, lives and memories being perhaps among the most impermanent. But it is a bitter pill to swallow, none the less.

While these people can never be replaced, new people will step into their roles as mentors, guides, and sources of inspiration. AAVSO will continue. But, as we look forward to the future, we should never forget the past.

Rest well, Dorrit. And thank you.
—Chuck Pullen

When I first met Dorritt, I remember feeling awe that I was speaking with someone who had personally known Harlow Shapley (whom she adored), his successor at HCO, Donald Menzel (whom she didn't), and most of the famous women who had worked at Harvard including those on the Draper spectral classification project. Still, she was friendly, and approachable, and happy to speak with someone of no particular importance. I will never forget that first meeting. May she rest in peace.
—Dave Hurdis

I have just returned from the hospital and learned of Dorrit's passing, I have lost another dear friend who was the cause of everything that has happened to Jan and I.

I will miss her greatly.
— Mike Mattei

I suppose one of the better recipients of condolences would be the AAVSO. It is probably appropriate that I have a copy of the 4th edition BSC on my desk today.
— Bob Zavala

My very first sighting of Dorrit was at Janet's Memorial Symposium that I had the honor of filming. She delivered the paper "Two Turkish Lady Astronomers," where she related the story of how she "found" Janet and ultimately directed her to the Directorship of the AAVSO. The more I learned about Dorrit, the more impressed I became. This was someone who knew and worked with folks that I only knew from books.

Two years ago I was up for the Systems Administrator position for the Astronomy Department of Yale University. One of the attractions of the position for me was that I hoped I would be supporting Dorrit in some way. During the day of the interview I remember walking by her office, but being told it was too icy for her to come into the office that day.

Arne's announcement about Dorrit hit me during work. Apparently I slumped in my chair upon reading it enough so that one of my coworkers came over to make sure everything was OK. I will forever regret that I never got to meet Janet, but be forever grateful that I was able to meet Dorrit.

Another bright light has faded from the world. This was not some shallow entertainer that CNN will write about and everyone will know. No, this was someone who significantly contributed to the quest for knowledge that makes being a human being worth it.

Dormu Pace, kara Dorrit.
Say "Hi" to Janet for all of us.

— Richard "Doc" Kinne, BA, MSc. [KQR], Member: AAVSO, ALPO, Cornell Astronomical Society


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