Dwight Hills Damon, seventy-five years young, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Connecticut, passed away on September 15, 2006, in Decatur, GA, after a brief illness.
From 1970 to 2005, Dwight and his wife, June, lived in Storrs, CT, where they were engaged in their scientific work, read widely about contemporary affairs and participated actively in local politics, especially clarifying environmental issues. In 2005, they moved to Decatur. Dwight is survived by June, his daughters Candace Perry Damon ’81 and Inger Kristina Damon ’84, a grandson and his brother, David Damon.
Dwight, aka “DH,” was born in Northampton, grew up in Amherst and was valedictorian of the Class of 1949 at Amherst High School. In his youth, DH showed signs of being extremely intelligent with a boundless curiosity. An early desire to explore the world of electrical currents led him to insert a hairpin into a wall outlet; shocking, but no harm was done. For his senior project in high school, DH built a Wilson Cloud Chamber; the device exploded, leaving his mark on the high school. DH was also full of fun, combining a keen wit with a devilish twinkle in his eye; he knew how to enjoy life.
These characteristics stood Dwight well at Amherst; he graduated cum laude in physics. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi, and was vice president of Theta Xi. The Theta Xi pages of the 1953 Olio state: “Dwight Damon and the intellectual, scientific and science fiction discussions, which frequently degenerated.”
DH also had a strong interest in sports. At Amherst he went out for freshman football, only to have his football aspirations cut short with a career-ending knee injury. DH also played golf at Amherst, was a loyal Red Sox fan and maintained a lifelong love of sports, especially in supporting the UConn teams while living in Storrs.
After Amherst, DH went to Purdue for his graduate studies, focusing on measuring the magnetic properties of semi-conductors. While at Purdue, Dwight met June M. Olson, and they were married on May 29, 1955.
A hydrogen explosion next to his laboratory required everything in DH’s lab to be rebuilt. This delayed the completion of his doctoral research for two years. In 1961, Dwight received his PhD in physics. (June also earned a PhD from Purdue, in chemistry.) DH then joined the Westinghouse Research Laboratory in Pittsburgh. In 1970, he was recruited to the physics department at the University of Connecticut.
Dwight was a meticulous and careful experimenter. He had strong opinions on how laboratory work should be planned to exclude night work as much as possible and how safety should receive priority, including, of course, hydrogen safety. He became assistant director of the Institute of Materials Science at UConn (1980-83) and associate director of the IMS Electrical Insulation Research Center (1983-85).
In addition to his teaching and administrative duties, DH did research on electrical conduction in polymers and on dielectric breakdown in insulators. He helped develop the Polymer Program at UConn and implemented the curriculum in polymer physics. His scientific work provided DH with consultant opportunities in Denmark and Germany. He retired in 1997.
A loyal Amherst alum, DH was an associate Class agent for many years and regularly attended Homecoming football games and Class Reunions. He was particularly proud that both his daughters also graduated from Amherst.
His many friends and classmates will remember Dwight as a warm and enthusiastic person with a broad curiosity about the world. Never reticent about expressing his opinions, he enjoyed debate and discussion with others, particularly on politics, education, physics and the philosophy of science. DH could converse intelligently on just about anything.
Some of DH’s own words from the 50th Reunion book can help us remember this giant of a man and who he was:
“. . . . I wish I could believe that the leadership of the Democratic Party knows what to do, but I don’t. . . . If we can put a final end to the ‘civil wars’ that have racked Europe for so many centuries, we can truly celebrate. But it looks like they are just going to be replaced by other wars (Huntington anyone?).”
“. . . . remember that the wellsprings of our civilization are to be found in three ancient cities: Jerusalem, Athens and Rome. We explored that heritage at Amherst. I continue to celebrate it.”
“Then there is my family, which has been a source of support and pleasure, even delight. . . . . Our daughters are accomplished and successful young women; we are very proud of them. Both are married . . .”
DH was “the very model of a modern intellectual” and was also down to earth. Engaging, gregarious and enjoyable yet modest, Dwight lived and loved life to the fullest. He would often erupt into a boisterous laugh, with his whole persona chuckling and rollicking from head to toe. He was a real life Santa Claus.
Again, DH’s own words from the 50th Reunion book are most telling about this good person: “When I think of the misery in so much of the rest of the world, I give thanks for the blessings we have received. I have indeed lived a charmed life.”
DH will be greatly missed by family, classmates, colleagues and friends. “God speed, good and valued friend.”
—Winthrop Smith ’58
—John Mannheim ’53