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Most seafaring men take pride in their ability to stay on top of the water, but strange as it may seem, Dr. Harris B. Stewart, Jr., an oceanographer in the Division of Tides and Currents wants to get to the bottom of things. He has probably spent more time at the bottom of the sea than most men have sailed on its turbulent surface. Although only in his thirties, Dr. Stewart, born in Auburn, N.Y., the son of a Presbyterian minister, has been successively a military transport pilot, geologist, explorer, oceanographer, and skin diver.

Before coming to the Coast Survey he was associated with Geological Diving Consultants, Inc., a San Diego firm that specializes in underwater geological mapping. [Editor’s note: Other members of the Diving Consultants were Dr. Henry W. Menard, Dr. Robert Dietz, and Dr. Robert Dill. This group comprised an elite group of ocean explorers.] Dr. Stewart stated offhand that he had taken part in eight or nine hundred dives. He lost track of the number after his 500th dive.

Stewart’s introduction to skin diving came as a struggling student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. While attending one of his first classes in skin diving, Dr. Stewart expressed some concern over the presence of sharks in the Pacific coastal waters, but the instructor assured him that sharks only attack humans in isolated cases. Stewart still has some qualms about the subject since you can’t get much more isolated than at the bottom of the ocean.

Although Dr. Stewart’s duties in the Tides and Currents Division have him deskbound at the present time, he hopes to get back into the water by the end of October when the Survey Ship MARMER sails from Curtis Bay, Maryland to accomplish circulatory surveys along the east coast.

As part of his graduate work at Scripps, Dr. Stewart took part in several oceanographic expeditions. In 1951 he made studies of conditions in the Gulf of Alaska and in 1952-53 he was on the research vessel HORIZON in the South Pacific when the discovery of the deepest spot in the southern hemisphere was made. [Editor’s note: According to Henry W. Menard in his memoir, The Ocean of Truth, Stewart was tied into a chair for 18 hours during rough weather in the North Pacific Ocean while searching for and finding the western extension of the Mendocino Escarpment. This cruise proved the continuity of the great fracture zones of the Pacific Ocean and was a key discovery on the road to the Theory of Plate Tectonics.] This was 34,884 feet in the Tonga Trench east of the Tonga Islands. Unlike most people who are satisfied with the fact that water is wet, Dr. Stewart usually carries his studies a little further. He wants to know its temperature, salinity, movement, plant and animal life found therein and what is under it. In respect to this last item Stewart has spent hours riding an underwater sled through desert areas (large areas of the ocean floor that consist of rippled sand and few rocks) while collecting geological samples. He remarked that at such times with the water at a chilly 48 degrees you seemed to get the impression that you are being used as frozen bait while trolling for a sea monster.

Although Dr. Stewart’s aqua lung and rubber suit haven’t arrived from the west coast yet, he is busy making plans in order to adapt his diving experience and techniques to the operations of the Survey. In fact, Stewart is so intent on carrying out his underwater ideas in the Survey that someone was heard to crack: “TOP MAN TO GET BOTTOM JOB AT COAST SURVEY.”

In: “The Buzzard,” Vol. 25, No. 17, pp. 1-2. 11 October, 1957.

Harris B. Stewart, AOML Founder and First Director, Dies

Dr. Harris B. Stewart, Jr., AOML’s much beloved founder and first director, died of cancer on April 25, 2000 at his home in Naples, Florida. He was 77 years old. Dr. Stewart, or “Stew” as many called him, leaves behind a remarkable career in marine science that spanned more than 40 years and a multitude of caring friends and colleagues.

Born in Auburn, New York in 1922, Harris Stewart entered Princeton University in 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th of that same year, Stewart interrupted his academic studies to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. During his four years with the Air Corps as a transport pilot flying above the broad expanses of the Coral Sea and the islands of the southwest Pacific Ocean, he developed a deep respect and love for the sea. After the war, he returned to Princeton to earn a degree in geology and went to work for the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office, participating in survey cruises in Kuwait and the Persian Gulf.

Stewart’s love of the sea led him to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the early 1950s where he earned a doctoral degree in oceanography. He became a certified scuba diver, participated in marine geology expeditions in the Gulf of Alaska and south Pacific, and also worked as a diving geologist for a group that performed underwater geological mapping off the coast of California. In 1957 he was called to Washington, D.C. to become the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey’s Chief Oceanographer. His seafaring days continued with oceanographic research expeditions to the Caribbean Sea, South China Sea, and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

The Department of Commerce created a new agency in 1965, the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA, forerunner of NOAA), formed primarily by merging the functions of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and the Weather Bureau. Dr. Stewart became Director of ESSA’s new Institute of Oceanography.

When ESSA announced its intention to build a multi-million dollar oceanographic research laboratory and ship base along the eastern seaboard in late 1965, Dr. Stewart
was appointed Chairman of its Site Evaluation Committee. From 1966-1967, Dr. Stewart and committee visited 115 sites from Maine to the Virgin Islands. With ESSA’s announcement that Virginia Key-Dodge Island had been chosen as the new home for its oceanographic lab in 1967, he moved to Miami, Florida. Over 100 marine scientists and researchers relocated to Miami with Dr. Stewart, director of the new facility.

The building of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, however, was a difficult task. A last minute cut from President Johnson’s FY-1970 federal budget eliminated funding that was to begin construction of the facility. Dr. Stewart successfully appealed to Miami’s community leaders for help to get the funds reinstated, and on February 9, 1973 AOML officially opened its doors. If not for the dedication of these individuals and their belief in Dr. Stewart, construction of the lab would have never begun or been completed. According to Jack Kofoed, Stewart’s former deputy director, “The depth of loyalty and respect of his friends was unbelievable, and it was true all the way back to his school days. Stew achieved the near impossible goal of being both a brilliant scientist and charismatic manager.” Dr. Stewart served as director of AOML until October 1978, at which time he retired from federal service. His next four years were spent as Director of the Center for Marine Studies at Old Dominion Univer-
sity in Norfolk, Virginia before retiring altogether from his career with the ocean.
In 1998, Dr. Stewart was reunited with many of his old friends and colleagues when
he visited Miami to participate in AOML’s Silver Anniversary celebration. He was
AOML’s honored guest, much praised for the vision, leadership, and political savvy
that took the concept of AOML from the realm of mere creative potential to that of
full-blown reality–a dream manifested.

He was a prolific writer, publishing over 120 scientific articles during his years as a marine scientist. He also authored 12 books with topics ranging from oceanography,
poetry, to humor. Dr. Stewart is survived by daughter Dorothy Barrett, son Harry,
brother John, and countless numbers of colleagues, admirers, and friends.

Remembering “Stew”

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my
glory was I had such friends” (William Butler Yeats)

Here’s how some of Harris Stewart’s friends and former colleagues remember him:

It was during a balmy evening at sea on a shake-down cruise for the newly commissioned U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship Discoverer (OSS-02) that Dr. Harris B. Stewart, Jr. and the ship’s Operations Officer sat down on the fantail using two side-by-side hawser bollards for seats. Stew was his usual enthusiastic and energetic self, discussing the wonders of the deep and the many discoveries yet to be made. The young ESSA officer, his lieutenant commander’s insignia hardly tarnished by the salt air, sat and listened in rapt attention: a 15-minute conversation between the apprentice and the master that changed a young life and that of his family forever. Seven years afterwards, with the gold oak leaf symbols long hidden in the back of a drawer, a new Ph.D. was granted and Stew reminded his friend of sitting together on the fantail and dreaming of wonders yet to be known.

Twenty-five years later, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I write this and remember a man who, in a few short minutes, changed a life and set him sailing off to another world. I too hope I can do that for just one of my students, in this my third career, and truly my greatest gift from the sea.

George A. Maul, Professor of Oceanography,
Florida Institute of Technology

I first met Harris Stewart in 1971 when I came to work for the Tropical Atlantic Biological Laboratory (now the Southeast Fisheries and Science Center) across the street from a vacant lot that eventually became the permanent home for the AOML. I was a young brand new oceanographer fresh out of school from the west coast and not knowing one end of an XBT or current meter from the other. During the year I was at the fisheries laboratory my wife Kathy and I had the pleasure of attending a reception for visiting oceanographers from some of our neighboring Caribbean countries held at the Stewart home. I remember that we had to sign a guest book. That was the first time I ever signed a guest book and was most certainly impressed. During that time I also remember contacting Harris about borrowing a current meter from AOML to be used on a bottom moored tripod array just off Ft. Lauderdale. Harris gave his permission, we picked up the meter, received a quick lesson on how to open, remove the data, and close it. One week later we recovered the meter, removed the data and redeployed. I also remember not sealing it correctly and flooding the instrument. Hence, my short career with current meters and a greater focus on XBTs. Harris Stewart was a very personable man, took the time to talk to anyone, including a fledgling oceanographer, and made an impact on everyone who met him.

Looking back over 30 years of NOAA personalities I’ve known, I can, without equivocation, observe that Harris Stewart was, indeed, the right person, at the right time and in the right place to create the AOML at which we presently have the honor to be employed. I wish I knew him better but am pleased that I knew him at all.

Steve Cook, Oceanographer, Physical Oceanography Division

The thing I remember most about Stew was his kindness. When I first came to work here in October 1970, he brought me into his office and told me how glad he was that I was here. Made me feel like family. He was at once both kind and charismatic, a rare combination with a gift for leadership. This was a man you would follow into hell. We are all the poorer now that he is gone.

Dennis Mayer, Oceanographer, Physical Oceanography

“To the scientist who studies her, the sea is a magnificent addiction; once exposed to her complex interrelationships, once made aware of the sheer joy of learning her secrets, of exploring her vast uncharted reaches, he is a willing slave to the pursuit of more knowledge of her.”
Harris B. Stewart
“Deep Challenge,” 1966

In the 19th century the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USCGS) was a U.S. and world leader in oceanographic research, and its leaders were nationally preeminent scientific figures. During the first half of the 20th century, urgencies of charting the coastal waters in support of rapidly growing maritime commerce and two world wars preempted resources from more basic research. By the late 1950s Admiral Arnold Karo, then director of the USCGS, envisioned restoration of “The Bureau” to its former glory, and recruited Dr. Harris Stewart to help bring his vision to fruition. “Stew” had just the right instincts for working the Washington scene of the time, and was perfectly positioned to influence the structure of oceanographic research in the Department of Commerce as the coalescence of several agencies into the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA), the progenitor of NOAA, was being developed. In 1966 basic research, including that from the USCGS, was reorganized into four Institutes for Environmental Research in ESSA (not likely the admiral’s ideal). One of these was the Institute for Oceanography, headed by Stew. The IO initially was composed of four Laboratories, the reason for the use of plural on our street sign. The Laboratories were for Marine Geology and Geophysics, Physical Oceanography (with the progenitors of PMEL, JIMAR, and JISAO all as wholly-owned subsidiaries), and Sea-Air Interaction co-located in Silver Spring, Maryland and Land and Sea Interaction located in Norfolk, Virginia.

Stew’s vision was for a coastal laboratory site away from the distractions of Washington, with full research capabilities, more or less on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute or Scripps Institution of Oceanography models. At the time, these institutions were about the age that AOML is now. I expected that these developments would take several years, and were irrelevant to my plans to return to the University of Washington. I underestimated Stew’s energy as a hustler, however. To keep the momentum going, he organized a Site Evaluation Committee and a campaign that stirred excitement the length of the Atlantic coast, and with them personally visited 115 (as I remember) proposed sites for the Institute from Portland, Maine to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (see the historical exhibits in the first floor hallway).

I think that Stew’s personal preference might have been for the northeast, but he was careful to preserve objectivity. In just over a year Miami had been selected (largely because of the preexisting hurricane research activity here, I still believe), and the move was underway.

By then, the cost of the war in Vietnam had begun to cast a long shadow over funding for construction of planned facilities. The metamorphosis of ESSA into NOAA had little impact on AOML. Stew renewed his efforts far and near and, against all odds, succeeded in competition with programs of the Great Society as well as a futile war.

AOML as we know it now had become a fact, although its programs and components have undergone major changes, and two large NOAA research vessels were once berthed in Miami. I had followed the move to Miami as an adventure rather than as a commitment, but became convinced that Stew was creating an attractive research environment, and that I could make needed contributions to it. He thereby determined the course of the second half of my life, and substantially influenced those of my children and grandchildren as well.

I think that the fun went out of it for Stew as additional layers of management impeded his access to the machthabers in Washington, and higher management grew less responsive to his view of the oceans. He revealed his decision to move on to new endeavor first to his Laboratory Directors, but soon to all. I have often wondered whether in those first moments he might have been dissuaded, but he presented his decision so firmly that none of us thought to try. Now we can never know.

Donald Hansen,
Former Director, Physical Oceanography Division

Years ago, a woman that lived temporarily in an apartment behind Stew’s home
received complementary Pampers by mail for her baby. One day she moved to another area, but the diapers kept coming to Stew’s home. Danny, my son, was a baby at that time, so for a couple of weeks Stew took the time to deliver those Pampers personally to my office. It was heartwarming to see the Director of AOML carrying a big box of Pampers under his arm in the mornings. Through the years, whenever he visited AOML, he would stop by to see me and, after giving me a big hug, he would say affectionately, “How’s my ‘Cuban Mafia’doing these days (his Cuban AOMLers).” Then, even though he could barely see anymore, he would tell me “you look as beautiful as ever!” and I knew he meant it, because he always looked at people with his heart, not with his eyes.

Gladys Medina, Executive Secretary, Office of the Director

One of the things I appreciated the most about Dr. Stewart was the way he encouraged senior AOML researchers to mentor the younger scientists and teach them how to conduct scientific research and get their results published. He also taught an entire generation of AOML scientists that a solid academic background combined with hard work, determination and an uncompromising trust in the scientific method would ulti- mately result in meaningful scientific contributions to our respective fields. Thank you for showing us the way Dr. Stewart!

Evan Forde, Oceanographer, Remote Sensing Division

After being apprised of Harris Stewart’s failing health and that a visit, sooner rather than later was imperative, John and Maria Proni, Judy Gray, and I visited Stew at his home in Naples on April 22nd. To our pleasant surprise upon entering, he was having a lively telephone conversation with his publisher about his latest book that had just been mailed that morning. Within minutes he greeted us with his normal enthusiasm, despite the toll cancer, radiation therapy, and the recent death of his wife had taken on him. He started the conversation on a heavy note describing the events of the recent past including the circumstances of his wife’s death and the discovery, treatment, and prognosis of his cancer. With that said, the following two hours took on a much lighter air with the exchange of “sea stories,” some revisited, some new. Throughout that afternoon, his mental acuity, wit, and zest of spirit remained intact, it was only the body that was failing. During the ride home we all agreed that we were glad we took the time for the visit and were heartened that his condition was apparently better than we had anticipated. It was the latter that provided added surprise to the announcement of his death just three days later. Although gone, there remains both tangible and intangible evidence of his being in the forms of the unique facility we work in and pleasant memories of yesteryear, a legacy anyone could take pride in.

Terry Nelsen, Oceanographer, Ocean Chemistry Division

“Stew” was a great man and for the last several years a supporter of my work at AOML from behind the scenes. He wrote me little notes regularly when he found some thing to comment on in Keynotes. We made fast friends at AOML’s Silver Anniversary where he was the honored guest. This past winter he and his wife Louise invited my husband Michael and me to Naples at the time of a Greek church festival (it is so char acteristic of Stew that he would pick a time when there would be something special in it for Michael also). Stew’s wife, who passed away just weeks before him, was a most gracious hostess and a lovely, lovely lady. It was a marvelous weekend that the Katsaros’ will treasure in memory for as long as we live. How lucky we were to have that opportunity! Little did we know then that they were both so short for this world. I am forever grateful for those precious hours we spent together. We miss having them on the Earth with us, but will treasure the memories and the wisdom he conveyed always.

Kristina Katsaros, Director, AOML

Kristina Katsaros with Harris Stewart at his home in
Naples, Florida in February 2000.

“As a youth, one looks ahead to the future. With advancing years, one looks less ahead and reflects more on the past. For me, there is an unknown number of decades ahead, but there are almost eight of them behind me. And they have been good years, filled with rewarding and productive times at sea, working with dedicated sea people, doing marine research, and facilitating the research of other marine scientists.”
Harris B. Stewart
“The Unpredictable Mistress,” 1996

Oceanography is Dangerous!

The Exec has spent two weeks in traction,
The Chief has a cut on his head,
The Doctor is missing in action
With a burn that has sent him to bed.
Various others have bruises
And legs and backs that are sore.
The dangerous parts of these cruises
Are the motorbikes ridden ashore.

Arch E. Benthic, a.k.a. Harris B. Stewart
“The Id of the Squid,” 1970

In: AOML Keynotes, Vol. 4, No. 5, pp. 1-4.

Poem for the decommissioning
of the NOAA Ship
Malcolm Baldrige
(formerly the Researcher)

This vessel meant a lot to me,
Her gentle roll in a moderate sea,
The curtain swaying at my
stateroom door
And a pencil rolling in an empty

The steady pounding of her
sturdy hull
And the raucous cry of a
wheeling gull,
The sibilant sight as a swell
slides by
On a moonless night ‘neath a
starry sky.

Her ensign snapping in a
spanking breeze
And flying foam from wind-
whipped seas,
The silent splendor of a rising sun
And a few hours sleep when your
watch is done.

The creaks and groans of an
aging ship
Were friendly sounds on her
final trip.
And those who worked on her
at sea
Will know the joy of these things
for me.

Harris B. Stewart
August 23, 1996

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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