Royal Society Publishing

Lyman Spitzer. 26 June 1914 — 31 March 1997

Jeremiah P. Ostriker

Elected ForMemRS 1990


One of the leading theoretical astrophysicists of the twentieth century, Lyman Spitzer showed a renaissance or even a classical figure in both his character and personal style. I once speculated that a biographer would some day remark on the importance of Spitzer's early exposure to ancient literature, and his family assured me that he had in fact been strongly influenced throughout his life by classical, especially Latin, models. If ever I have known an individual who fitted the renaissance ideal of the gentleman scholar (based, of course, on earlier Latin archetypes), it was Lyman. The upright bearing, courteous speech, clarity, and total independence of mind were the dress of a person seemingly dropped into our midst from another age. Born in 1914 into a prosperous Toledo, Ohio, commercial family, he later married into the local, still wealthier clan of the Canadays. After attending Scott High School in Toledo and then Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, he received his BA at Yale in 1935 and then went to Cambridge University for a year (1935–36), where he was influenced by Sir Arthur Eddington FRS and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (FRS 1944), who was an almost exact contemporary. Returning to the USA, he received his PhD in 1938 at Princeton, under the legendary Henry Norris Russell ForMemRS. Spitzer then went briefly to Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow, followed by a move to Yale, where he was appointed as instructor in 1939. It was shortly after moving to Yale that he married Doreen D. Canaday, herself a Bryn Mawr graduate, a totally charming and strong-willed woman with whom he raised a family of four children born between 1942 and 1954: Nicholas C., Dionis C., Sarah L. and Lydia S.