A tragic auto accident outside Austin, Texas, has taken the life of John F. Gregory, creator of the Gregory-Maksutov telescope design. He was 82. Preliminary details are in this news account. His wife, Carolyn, remains in critical condition following the November 14, 2009, crash.For amateur telescope makers (or ATMs), Gregory charted a new course with his seminal article, "A Cassegrainian-Maksutov Telescope Design for the Amateur," in Sky & Telescope for March 1957. No longer was an ever-larger Newtonian reflector the only thing on glass-pushers' wish lists. Gregory showed how to make a far more sophisticated telescope, not unlike the high-end Questar catadioptric telescope that began to be a commercial rage in the 1950s. John didn't just provide the curves and specs for an experienced mirror-maker to work to; he presented the shop techniques and exacting tests needed for a successful completion.
Soon after that article appeared, other key players grabbed the baton. Bob Cox, conductor of S&T's Gleanings for ATMs department, published many more articles by Gregory and other Maksutov enthusiasts. This soon led to the classic 39-page pamphlet, Gleanings Bulletin C. And Scottish-born instrument maker Allan Mackintosh launched the Maksutov Club, for which he began issuing monthly circulars to a generation of advanced ATMs.Gregory, who was then living in Stamford, Connecticut, went on to design a 22-inch f/3.7 Maksutov photovisual telescope. This instrument was completed in 1965 for the Stamford Museum and Nature Center and ranks as the largest Maksutov in the U.S.A. He was then employed as an optical engineer at Perkin-Elmer, but later he moved to Dripping Springs, Texas, to start his own consulting firm, John Gregory Optics. In 1980 he donated an 8.2-inch f/16 Maksutov-Cassegrain that he'd made to his alma mater, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He named it the Nassau Memorial Telescope after his former teacher there, noted spectroscopist and Milky Way expert J. J. Nassau. Meanwhile, Gregory continued to share his expertise, often turning up at annual ATM gatherings such as Stellafane in Vermont and the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference in California. He was equally at home crunching numbers, circumambulating a pitch lap, or operating a machine-shop lathe. Nowhere does this multifaceted mastery come across more clearly than in his last major S&T article, "The Quest for the Perfect Refractor" (June 1987, pages 662–667).
Gregory's longtime friend and associate Mike Jones is collecting tributes and recollections. For his enthusiastic leadership in telescope making, Mike notes, "John was one of the last of the great ones, right up there with Russell Porter, Al Ingalls, James G. Baker, and Bob Cox."