In Memoriam: John Gregory

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.

John Gregory shows off an exotic 8-inch doublet lens he designed and made in 1987. It featured better image correction than many triplet objectives.
S&T file photo
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.

Before a packed auditorium in 2006, Gregory delivered the Robert Goff Memorial Lecture at the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference in Big Bear Lake, California. On the screen behind him, a much younger Gregory introduces his two sons to optics.
Dean Ketelsen
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.

John and Carolyn Gregory in 2006, at RTMC.
Dean Ketelsen
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."

3 thoughts on “In Memoriam: John Gregory

  1. Michael Overacker

    It is truly a sad time for astronomy with the tragic passing of John Gregory. Although I never had the honor of meeting John, I own a Gregory design Maksutov that I cannot imagine being without at night. As a teacher of astronomy, and in particular, astronomy based telescopes, I have modified my presentations to note John Gregory’s massive contribution to the science that we hold so dear to our hearts. By talking, teaching, and passing on his memory and contribution, we can assure that astronomers in the future will know, and appreciate, the great works that John gave to us as part of his life.
    You will be missed, John.

    Michael Overacker

  2. B. W. Haley

    John Gregory had always been one of my idols, and finally in the mid 80’s I met him in Ft. Worth. We became friends and I spent many happy hours in his workshop in Dripping Springs, Texas. He allowed me to hone my optical skills on a number of government projects. Once we made some rectangular crystal lenses for Pratt & Whitney. Some fellows think I’m a master optician, and at 65 years of age maybe, but I owe it all to John who never became impatient and always made me strive for perfection. John was also a professional piano player. I’ve been a professional musician all my life and one of the greatest moments in my life was playing tenor sax with this great man of knowledge..who I always thought lowered his standards so people like me would have the chance to gain worthwhile knowledge…Thank you John! We all love you. B. W. Haley/comet optical co.

  3. B. W. Haley

    John Gregory had always been one of my idols, and finally in the mid 80’s I met him in Ft. Worth. We became friends and I spent many happy hours in his workshop in Dripping Springs, Texas. He allowed me to hone my optical skills on a number of government projects. Once we made some rectangular crystal lenses for Pratt & Whitney. Some fellows think I’m a master optician, and at 65 years of age maybe, but I owe it all to John who never became impatient and always made me strive for perfection. John was also a professional piano player. I’ve been a professional musician all my life and one of the greatest moments in my life was playing tenor sax with this great man of knowledge..who I always thought lowered his standards so people like me would have the chance to gain worthwhile knowledge…Thank you John! We all love you. B. W. Haley/comet optical co.

Comments are closed.