J. M. A. (Tony) Danby

(Obituary published in The News & Observer on December 10, 2009)

"Tony" was born in London, UK, but spent his first six years in Palestine. His father"s appointment as Regius Professor of Hebrew and a canon of the cathedral took the family to Christ Church, Oxford. Tony was educated at Marlborough, where he learned to play the oboe and began organizing chamber music groups, a habit which remained with him until in his sixties when he had to abandon playing due to arthritis. He received an Open Scholarship to Christ Church and took a B.A. and M.A. in mathematics, followed by a Ph.D. in astronomy at Manchester University. After serving in the Royal Artillery, as a musician, he joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as first chair oboist. While there, he played under conductors such as Boult and Solti and with soloists such as Rubenstein and Menuhin; he himself played a concerto in the Royal Festival Hall.

In 1957 he accepted an offer to teach astronomy at the University of Minnesota. (During his final day, before leaving England, he recorded, for the BBC, an oboe sonata dedicated to him by the composer Stephen Dodgson.) On arrival he was offered an extra job teaching at Macalester College in St. Paul, where he met his future wife, Phyllis; they were married in 1958. While in Minneapolis he wrote his first textbook, on Celestial Mechanics, which was to become his main area of specialty. This text is still in print.

After four years (and, as he put it, 40 winters) he left Minnesota for six years at the Astronomy Department of Yale, where he was a colleague of the great celestial mechanician Dirk Brouwer. Then, in 1967, he came, as Professor of Mathematics, to N.C. State University, where he remained until his retirement in 1998.

In Raleigh he was a Democratic precinct chairman for four years, and then served two terms directing the Wake County Chapter of the N.C. Symphony. This was a time when the orchestra received little respect musically and played to very small audiences. But with a new conductor and high ambitions, they planned a concert series in Raleigh"s Memorial Auditorium. The job of the Wake County Chapter was to fill the house, and in this it largely succeeded. After two successful seasons the decision was taken to move the headquarters of the orchestra to Raleigh. Danby"s efforts were rewarded by his nomination by the News and Observer as Tarheel of the Week. He played in many local churches and orchestras. He founded and directed the Raleigh Chamber Players which performed at a time when chamber concerts, especially in the summer months, were a rarity in the Triangle.

One of his hobbies was cooking. The house in Raleigh that he and his wife designed was intended, in part, for music and parties. For several years their fundraising activities included regular tea parties, and at Christmas and New Year they would entertain up to a hundred guests. On one occasion they gave a sit-down dinner to the entire chorus and orchestra of the London Bach Society when they appeared at a Friends of the College concert.

Professionally, he was active as an author of several textbooks and more than 40 research papers. Minor planet "Danby" was named by the International Astronomical Union in recognition of his contributions to the science and teaching of celestial mechanics. He helped found the journal Celestial Mechanics and the Division on Dynamical Astronomy of the American Astronomical Association.

At NC State he was active in research, teaching and University affairs, being Secretary of the Faculty Senate in 1976. He was named an "Outstanding Teacher" and Alumni Distinguished Professor. From the 1980"s he recognized the contributions that computers could make to teaching. With Professor Berenson, of the Department of Education, he secured a grant from IBM for the equipment of a computer laboratory. He inaugurated a new course in computer modeling that, by the time of his retirement, had an enrolment of some three hundred students per semester, all sections of which he himself taught. In 1996 his computer software for a text in astrophysics received an Annual Education Software Award in an international competition run by the journal Computers in Physics and in 1998 his software accompanying his text Computer Modeling received an honorable mention from the same journal.

In 1989 he accepted an invitation to become faculty advisor to a chapter of the Fraternity Phi Delta Theta, newly established at N.C.State, and was later initiated as a Brother. His active association with the Fraternity gave him some of the happiest times of his life. He established a named scholarship run by the Phi Delta Theta Educational Foundation to be awarded to Brothers at N.C.State.

Memorial service will be held at a later date.

Arrangements by Harrison Funeral Home & Crematory, Lexington, VA.

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