Leif Robinson at his Sky & Telescope office, courtesy of Sky & Telescope
I got the news today that one of the great figures in astronomy journalism and amateur astronomy, Leif Robinson, former editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, died yesterday at 71.
Leif served as editor in chief of S&T from 1980 to 2000 and was a regular fixture at gatherings of professional and amateur astronomers alike. He was always up to something interesting. I’ll never forget being introduced to him at an American Astronomical Society meeting in Tucson in 1995. He was bleary-eyed because he had just driven four hours out into the desert in the middle of the night to see a rare bird, then driven back four hours. Outside the meeting hall, he waded into a crowd of protesters who were picketing against the building of an observatory on Mount Graham (which they said was a sacred native site) to try to come to some meeting of the minds.
Leif was a huge support to me early in my science-writing career, particularly when, as editor of Mercury magazine, a small astronomy magazine based in San Francisco, I did a number of special issues asking tough questions about, for example, the future of astronomy. After I moved to Scientific American, Leif planned on writing an article for us on the way that amateur astronomers have contributed to professional research—a project that I quietly shelved when his wife, Caroline, died. Both of them are missed.