Remembering Tom Rafter (1922–1996)

Tom Rafter was a great good friend for more than 30 years. I first met him when he came to the American Geological Institute in 1959. Through the ’60s and ’70s, we worked together during the growth of AGI, rejoicing at the victories and cursing the defeats. Tom loved the AGI with a passion; in fact, loyalty and honesty were his two sweetest qualities. Loyalty to friends, causes and organizations, and honesty in all dealings with the same. When things went wrong, you could always depend on Tom to set them right. I also worked with Tom in AESE affairs. Tom was one of the founders of AESE, its 3rd president, the father of the crabcracker award for past presidents, a charter member and lifetime honor member, and the parliamentarian and guardian of the Constitution and By-Laws. It is characteristic of his concern for our organization that he gathered the archival material for the first 25 years of AESE and prepared it for safe-keeping. As the other member of the Archives Committee, I am now seeing it through to the Smithsonian Institution Archives for permanent storage.

Tom was with the AGI for 22 years and saw the Translations Program blossom from an idea in Earl Ingerson’s head to a full-blown publications series that included International Geology Review, Paleontological Journal, Doklady, and Geochemica. Nothing like it exists today, with the privatization of most foreign journal translations. Yet for a quarter-century, this was Tom’s brainchild that brought mainly Russian-language research in the earth sciences to the rest of the world—in English. After leaving AGI, Tom worked for the AGU for more than a decade. There his value as an expediter and can-do person was of inestimable value. His knowledge of the history of organizations and recent earth-science politics was encyclopedic; his patience with slow-learning colleagues and bosses was legendary.

And his operas—he loved them all, but Wagner was his favorite. He reveled in musical jokes, about opera and Wagner and double-bass players, among other oddities. As a boy, Tom played the double-bass well enough to earn a fellowship to Curtis Institute, which he gave up, at this father’s insistence, to join the family jewelry business. But we all gained a lifelong friend when this led to a passion for minerals and geology, and, ultimately, to earth-science publishing and politicking.

Back to his stories. My favorite was the tale of the dedicated double-bass player who received a ticket to hear the opera Carmen. Afterward, he rushed backstage and, when asked by his fellow bass players what he thought of the opera, excitedly said, “It was terrific! And, especially, the part where we’re playing ZUM-ZUM-ZUM-ZUM! Do you know what the rest of the orchestra is playing? (Hum the Toreador theme—DA, DA, DADA, DA—DA, DA, DA, DA, DAAA).”

Wherever Tom is zumming his gold-plated double-bass tonight, you can be sure he’s remembering that the rest of the orchestra is playing.

We’ll never see the likes of Thomas Francis Rafter, Jr., again. God bless him! We all miss him, mightily.

—Tom Dutro
Revised from remarks given at the AESE Banquet, September 24, 1996.