Honoring our History – Remembering Clinton B. Ford

Clinton B. Ford

On October 26, 2002, three members of ACMP, Stephen Symchych (Vn)  Newton, MA, Martha Jaffe (Vn/Va), Newton Center, MA, and William Simmons (Vc) ,Woods Hole, MA, took part in a performance of the Brahms Sextet in G Major, Op. 36, to honor the memory of Clinton B. Ford. The performance was sponsored by The American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), a group that represented Clinton B. Ford’s other passion in life, Astronomy.

Bill Simmons said, “We performed at the final banquet dinner in Somerville  (a few miles east of the AAVSO’s Headquarters in Cambridge, MA) after three solid days of scientific meetings. It was a splendid occasion in every way. I hadn’t known it previously, but apparently Clint and his pals often performed at the AAVSO’s annual meetings, and when they didn’t perform, they’d hole up in their rooms after scientific sessions and play into the wee smalls, often with entourages of AAVSO groupies listening. Thus, this was an especially nostalgic performance for them, and they really loved it, as did we.”

Who was this man who loved music and stars?  He said of himself, “Most people are unaware of it, but an important event for them took place on March 1, 1913, the date when the first permanent peace-time federal income tax took effect. A simultaneous unimportant event was my birth. I came in with the Income Tax. I’d like to say that when I go out, I’ll take it with me. Some things really are impossible.”

Clinton Ford’s “burn for Astronomy” started in his youth under his father’s tutelage at the University of Michigan’s Observatory. By the age of 14, he had observed his first variable star, and became the youngest person ever to be admitted as a member of that group. His unvarying interest in music also started in childhood with violin lessons. In his autobiographical sketch for AAVSO, Some Stars, Some Music, (AAVSO, 1986) Ford said “When my  grandfathers’ brother, a Civil War veteran, a grand old man who everyone called Uncle Clinton, learned that his namesake was playing the violin he gave me his own violin. It was no Strad, but it was better than the “cheese-box” my father had, on which I was scratching out the rudiments.”

Some of Clinton Ford’s happiest musical memories were at his family house, “The Manse” in Ovid, New York, near Cayuga Lake. He would host musical house parties at which marathon sessions of chamber music would be interspersed with delicious meals that he loved to prepare on an outdoor stone grill. He moved to Connecticut in his later years and played viola in the Stamford Symphony and chamber music with ACMP Board member William  Selden (Vla-A, Vl- B), Westport, CT.

Clinton B. Ford died on September 23, 1992, sixty-five years to the day on which he made his first variable star observation.

His bequest to ACMP was a total surprise that amazed the Board and even made them slightly apprehensive.  After all, ACMP had never been about money. An organization devoted to playing chamber music for pleasure has few needs beyond a modest budget to maintain records and publish the Directory.  What should we do? How best to use these resources?  How to adapt to change without losing our basic identity and values? After intensive thought and debate, the ACMP Foundation was created.

First published ACMP Newsletter, December 2002

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