Don Burrows

My maternal grandfather, Don Burrows, passed away fairly peacefully on December 14th. We had a get-together yesterday and today with Mom’s brother Tom, Grandpa’s brother Ken, and his wife Barbara, talking about funny memories of him and reading through his memoirs. Below is the essay I wrote for the National Merit Scholarship 6 years ago (which is itself a shortened version of my Common Application essay for colleges), showing a small facet of his life and his impact on mine.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is seeing the Andromeda Galaxy for the first time.  I was eleven when my grandfather dragged me out into my muddy backyard.  I was less than enthusiastic about standing in the cold while he adjusted his telescope, and when he pointed out the spot it was pointing at, I cared very little about what appeared to be a large white star.  That changed when I looked through the eyepiece and saw, not the white blob I was expecting, but the beautiful dust lanes and glowing heart of a spiral galaxy.  It astounded me that something so nondescript when viewed with the naked eye could be so complex.  I don’t know what expression was on my face when I looked up from the telescope, but it made my grandfather smile.  He gave me a thick, illustrated guide to practical sky gazing for my next birthday.  From then on, I was hooked on astronomy.

On his next visit, my grandfather brought another book: Stephen Hawking’s Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays.  I didn’t have the physics or math background to understand everything in the book, but I learned that the universe, and astronomy, was much more complicated than I had ever expected.  I also resolved to learn more.  The novels on my mental reading list were displaced by A Brief History of Time and a biography of Edwin Hubble.  My interests in science soon broadened to include not only chemistry, courtesy of my parents, and astronomy, but also cosmology, quantum physics, computing, cryptography, and relativity.  My grandfather has been a constant supplier of books, stimulating conversation, practical experience, and love during my continuing search for knowledge, and I owe him  more than I could ever possibly give back.

I may have exaggerated a few things for effect (I wasn’t actually that grumpy about standing around the cold), but I definitely owe Grandpa B. a lot.

Grandpa and me in July 2014.
Grandpa and me in July 2014.

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