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Leo Otis Colbert
The Man of the Month

leo colbertWe are introducing in this issue this new feature which we hope will meet with the approval of our readers and serve to them no little….

Our “Man of this Month,” to start our feature off to a good start is, appropriately, our Director, Admiral Leo Otis Colbert, one of the Coast Survey’s most interesting personages.

Admiral Colbert was born in Cambridge, Mass., and from early childhood showed evidences of becoming quite an athlete and a leader among men.

As a small boy and during his college days at Tufts, he indulged in many sports and excelled in all in which he participated.

His athletic desires continued to obsess him even after his marriage and it is related that after becoming a father his life was such a busy one he could not find the time to any longer indulge in competitive sports to his liking, so after completing the usual chores of the family man when he returned home after his daily work, he would limber up his muscles by jumping over the furniture in his home, much to the discomfiture of Mrs. C.

During his active participation in competitive sports he accumulated so many cups, vases, and various other trophies that it became a burden for the Missus to move them while house cleaning and they soon found their way to the attic.

However, with all his prowess as an athlete, there was one sport at which he was not so good – horseback riding. He had never ridden until he first went to the Philippines, when at the persuasion of Mrs. Colbert, he was induced to mount a horse, but it seems he had considerable trouble in getting Dobbin to start, stop and steer.

On his first trick of duty in Seattle he amused the natives very much with his broad pronunciation of his “a’s” and people would ask if he was an American or from Boston.

As busy as he usually is, now that the Survey has grown to a major-sized organization under his direction, he manages to find time to shoot an occasional game of his favorite sport –golf – and indulge his pet hobby of collecting pictures.

Since the beginning of the war, the Admiral has been such a busy man with his constant contacts with the Army, Navy and many other high officials, that it seems excusable if he has at times forgotten to put on his necktie or failed to have his car refueled - much to his embarrassment on discovering the fact….

In: “The Buzzard,” Vol. IX, No. 23, pp. 1-2. June 4, 1942.

Rear Admiral Leo Otis Colbert
whose entire professional career of over 42 years has been with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, retired as Director effective Friday, April 7, 1950.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Admiral received his early education in the primary schools of Boston. He graduated from Tufts College in 1907, with a degree in civil engineering and in 1939 was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by that institution.

He entered the service of the Coast Survey on July 1, 1907. Since then his field assignments have included those of navigator, executive officer, and commanding officer of the various Survey ships operating in the coastal waters of the United States, Alaska, and the Philippines, where he had received his first command in 1912.

During World War I, he was transferred to duty under the Navy Department and served as Lieutenant Commander on the troop transport USS NORTHERN PACIFIC, making nine voyages transporting troops through the submarine zone between New York and Brest, France.

He received a certificate as Master of Steam Vessels, Unlimited Tonnage, Any Ocean, issued by the U.S. Steamboat Inspection Service in April 1920.

He was Director of Coast Surveys of the Philippine Islands at Manila from 1928 to 1930.

During his service as Chief of the Division of Charts in the Washington office from 1933 to 1938 the Coast Survey completed 87 aeronautical charts and started other series of special charts for long distance flying.

The Bureau has passed through a most important period of its existence during the 12 years that he has served as Director. He directed with energy and imagination the activities of the Bureau during its greatly expanded war program.

Admiral Colbert is a member of many professional and scientific organizations, including the advisory council of the Department of Civil Engineering, Princeton University, American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. He is a director of the Society of Military Engineers, a trustee of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a life trustee of the National Geographic Society.

Admiral Colbert's last day in his office was marked by a constant stream of friends entering to wish him a long and happy retirement. A delegation from the Chart Division presented him with a coffee table made from an original copper plate engraving of a nautical chart which was current about the middle of the nineteenth century, and a plastic bas-relief made from one of his pictures by the method developed to make scale relief maps.

Admiral Adams presided at the testimonial gathering held in the Auditorium at 4:00 p.m. on Friday. The occasion was highlighted by the presentation to Admiral Colbert of the Department of Commerce's Distinguished Service Ribbon and Citation by Secretary Admiral Colbert was also presented with a book of signatures of Coast Survey employees by Admiral Adams, a watch by Mr. Barnette, from the Washington Office of the Coast Survey, and a silver service by Commander Rittenburg, from the Association of Field Engineers. Admiral Colbert's host of friends are unanimous in their wish for continuing happiness, good health, and prosperity during his retirement.

The Buzzard Vol. 18, No. 15, 4/11/1950

Rear Admiral Leo Otis Colbert, Director of the Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1938 to 1950, died December 24, 1968, at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He would have been 85 on December 31, 1968.

Admiral Colbert served with the Coast and Geodetic Survey for nearly 43 years. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1883, and entered the Coast Survey in 1907, soon after receiving his degree in civil engineering from Tufts College. He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by Tufts in 1938. He served on several Survey ships in waters of the U.S. and Philippines, and in 1917 was one of the original 119 officers commissioned in the Coast and Geodetic Survey. He was transferred to the Navy for the next 2 years and saw duty on a troop transport. After a tour in Coast and Geodetic Survey headquarters, he was Director of Coast Surveys in the Philippines from 1928 to 1930. He was Chief of the Charts Division in Washington for 4 years prior to his appointment as Director in 1938.

Admiral Colbert was a member of many professional societies, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Geophysical Union, American Society of Photogrammetry, Society of American Military Engineers, Institute of Navigation, and the American Shore and Beach Preservation Society. He was a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America, a life trustee of the National Geographic Society and an honorary trustee of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Admiral Colbert was buried on December 27, 1968, at Baltimore National Cemetery. Survivors include Mrs. Colbert; and two daughters, Mrs. Raphael A. Neal, of Newhall, California, and Mrs. William L. Doonan, of Kensington, Maryland.

ESSA Corps Bulletin, 1/1/1969

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.
Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:27 AM

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