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Graham Loftus 1925-2015
” What we need is a big telescope in every village and hamlet, and some bloke there with that fire in his eye who can show something of the glory the world sails in" 
by Mike Belcher 

 

 

I first met Graham when he came down from Auckland along with a few other interesting members from that society, such as Stan Walker and Brian Marino. They were visiting Hamilton to attend the first RAZNZ conference held by the Hamilton Astronomical Society. I was president at the time so got to meet quite a few of the delegates. We seemed to hit it off immediately and have remained friends ever since. Graham had just turned 60 as I recall, so this personal dissertation on Graham's astronomical goings on is more or less for only around that last 30 years of his life.

 

My contact with Graham only increased over time because we needed someone to figure the mirror for our new 24" telescope, and after Gary Nankivell pulled out because he only had a 16" flat; Graham came to the rescue. Graham never really liked the egg-crate blank we had purchased from the US, primarily because it wasn't one of his, even thought it had been recommend by the chief optician from Mt Palomar Observatory (Bob Child from memory); a contact recommended by Norm Rumsey. So perhaps to prove a point (because that was what Graham was sometimes like), he made another 24" mirror with two matching secondaries (a Newtonian and cassegrain) that are the same size and share the same figure as the egg-crate mirror and it's secondary. Mounted as a Dobsonian telescope it was offered to the Hamilton Society, which for some reason turned it down.  Probably because it came out of the blue and so they had no budget for it. It was during this time I was more or less forced to move to Auckland so was unable to oversee completion the telescope myself. Their loss was my gain however, as I ended up purchasing it, partly because Graham needed the money.

 

As you can see, I think it is fair to say that Graham wasn't the most gifted of businessmen, often selling telescopes for well below the cost and effort he had put into them. And often when there was no buyer at all.

 

In the 90's Graham was responsible for introducing me to the (now so-called discredited) work of Dr Halton Arp, and Eric Learner's book, 'The Big Bang never happened', and later Anthony Perratt’s 'Physics of the Plasma Universe'. Halton Arp was the underdog, by all accounts stifled out of his research by the establishment. Perhaps a hint if identification there for Graham, who was always quick to support the underdog, but mostly it was the challenge to established ideas where is passion resided. Needless to say, and as most of you already know, Graham was a firm disbeliever in the Standard model of just about everything including the Big Bang, Graham was able to quickly see where the correct answer was, and in his mind it was with plasma physics.

 

It is interesting to note (and I quote from the Auckland Astronomical Society website), that back in 1967 at an inaugural meeting (probably to discuss the future use of the Zeiss), Graham recommended that variable star work be the main activity, an activity that was subsequently agreed upon. This is not the Graham I came to know.  His dismissive comments on doing this kind of astronomy are printable and not disrespectful (I never once heard utter a swear word), but to him it was pointless when you have the science wrong.

 

 

Graham's change in philosophy overtime probably made it hard for him to stick around and mix with people of different ideas than his own, and so in the end it proved to be. While there is more to this story than need be said here, Graham and the Auckland Astronomical Society, and other societies like RAZNZ inevitably drifted apart. Many dinners at his home and nights under the stars with like-minded souls became almost a weekly substitute, where the likes of Sarah Wheaton, and other friends regularly delighted in his iconoclasm.  Mentoring other aspiring mirror makers like Graham Williams also kept him going. I am sure all of these people can describe these times in far better detail than I and with many more of Graham's stories.

 

Graham was always trying to be helpful to people and societies that he could see would blossom with perhaps a cheap or free telescope or two so that they too could see what he sees in the magnificence of the universe. It was Graham who inspired and pointed a young man in the direction of the late Norm Rumsey, then New Zealand's foremost telescope optician and a leading scientist at the DSIR. From that early stepping-stone, and a continued friendship with Graham, Andrew Rakich has become one of the world's leading go to experts in this stratified field. His place of work being some of the worlds biggest and most advanced optical telescopes. I understand he is currently the opticist at the European Southern Observatory E-ELT.

 

Forever thirsty to show people through one of his big telescopes, it was in response to an advert from Arthur Clarke in 1996 looking at setting up an astronomical society in Franklin that re-kindled the fire to participate within a society again. Allan Strickland and others can certainly add more to this story than I, being a late starter with that society, which Graham greatly enjoyed being a part of.  Graham needed to be amongst people who appreciated him, and so it was. It was about this time that either Graham's van had run out of rust free metal to weld together, or that Graham had simply grown to tired of the expensive art of driving, so he gave it up. And so I became his chauffer and so also a member of this fledgling and fun to be with group of people in the historic church on Runciman Road, Puekehoe, more than an hour away.

 

Graham was an avid reader of good literature and stimulating books, and he delighted in the questions raised in the blasphemous works of Immanuel Velikovsky written in the 50' and 60’, but with many questions still unanswered today. Many of Velikovsky predictions have since been vindicated, and he was probably first to ascribed electricity as being the fundamental force behind the formation and motion of the solar system, and is probably the father of what we now generally refer to as the electric universe. In recent times Graham collected and was an avid reader of 'The Electric Sky' by Dr Donald Scott, and 'The Electric Universe' by Wall Thornhill, lending them out as must-reads to anyone he thought might be interested. Above all else, Graham wanted everyone's eyes and mind to be open to the universe he could see, and be made free of the mainstream dogma.

 

Through the Franklin Society we were able to bring John Dobson to New Zealand for the second time.  John always stayed with Graham when he came to Auckland and the two became great friends and mutual admirers. John Dobson once said, "It's not me these people are interested in, it's what I show them". When under the stars with a group of people clustered around one of his big telescopes, this was clearly Graham's philosophy too. While John was clearly more famous, he often mentioned his New Zealand friend Graham along with this quote,” What we need is a big telescope in every village and hamlet, and some bloke there with that fire in his eye who can show something of the glory the world sails in".

 

John and he would irreverently laugh together as they renamed two well know institutions as, "The universities of Caliphonyia and The University of Berserkly", with reference to their seemingly blind adherence to the one theory.

 

As most of you will know, Graham was a great thinker; he had a great mind, which may or may not have served him well during his time in the Royal New Zealand Air force, but from the many stories he has told us, it was clearly a time in his life he enjoyed and was proud of.  Graham was a pilot of very high regard by all accounts. Graham's interest in flying never waned so I often found myself volunteering to take him any air show that happened to come to town.

 

Graham has made hundreds of telescopes of all kinds, having figured more than 20 mirrors and their secondaries that where 20 inches in diameter or more, at least three of which where up to 36 inches in diameter. Graham's telescopes are to be found all over New Zealand, some in Australia, and one in Antarctica.  Above all else, this was his passion, and now that he has gone and no more Loftus mirrors and telescopes will be made, it will be interesting to see just how the value of these telescopes changes over time. There will be no more, nor the man with fire in his eyes to show them to you.

 

I for one will miss Graham's inspiration, his kindness, his insight, and his intellect. Above all Graham was a storyteller, and perhaps his story is not yet over.

 

As Mahatma Gandhi once said "You don't know who is important to you until you actually lose them". I dare say the importance of Graham, now that we have lost him, will only gather momentum over time for all of us.

 

Eulogy based on his astronomy.

Mike Belcher

 


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