Dion Scott Birney, Jr was born April 23, 1926 in Washington, DC to Sarah Miller Birney and Dion Scott Birney. He attended St. Albans School and then, before his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the Navy to do his part in World War II. He served as a third-class fire controller on the USS New York, seeing action at Okinawa and Iwo Jima. He was proud to serve for his country, as were both of his brothers and his brother-in-law.
After the war, he earned a degree in industrial engineering from Yale University, class of 1950. He returned to Washington, where he worked at Stone Straw company and met Janet Neal Martin on a blind date. They fell in love and were married on July 22, 1955. He earned his PhD in Astronomy in 1961 from Georgetown University and taught at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for 8 years. Then, in 1968 he moved to Wellesley College, where he enjoyed teaching until he retired in 1991. He served as department chair for many years, and wrote two textbooks on astronomy, both of which are still being used in US astronomy classes. Here is what one of his former students remembers about Scott:
"[what] a wonderful legacy [he] extended to so many students, who like that astonishing giant gardenia in his office, benefited so much, over a lifetime of taking an interest in us, as we went on to sprout new skills and open up to new interests. What a savvy gardener of people, and a wise, observant, and much loved human being. I am truly grateful to have known him, and I know that he will be missed by everyone whose lives and hearts he touched. And I remember [his] love of practicing his “suborbital trajectories” in a round of golf. I like to think he enjoyed the mathematical reality of those arcs as much as the walk, the greenery, the fresh air and sunshine."
When Scott retired, he had his five G’s: Gardening, Golf, Going places, Giving time and Grandchildren. He enjoyed all of them! His award-winning home garden in Wellesley hosted numerous family celebrations. He gave of his time to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, where he served at Trustee and Overseer, donating funds to install a beautiful greenhouse on the Elmbank property. He loved Nehoiden Golf Club, where he played with a regular group of friends. He and Jane traveled extensively, and he particularly loved visiting English gardens. He lived to welcome nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. It gave him great pleasure to get the family together at his old farmhouse in South Sutton, NH, where he would tell stories and recite long poems from memory. He made waffles on Sunday mornings, served at the table he built. He also loved his family summer vacations in Bethany Beach, DE.
He died peacefully in his sleep on August 15, 2021 at age 95. He was predeceased by his wife, Jane, his two brothers, James and Arthur and his sister Agnes (Bitsy) Hood. He is survived by his three children, David Birney and his wife Nadine, Carol de Wet, and her husband Andrew, Margaret Vickery and her husband Peter and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Scott often said he was lucky to have lived such a full life, surrounded by so many good friends and family. Those who knew him loved his kindness, patience, generosity and gentle humor. He was a lifelong learner and inspired his children and grandchildren to pursue their interests and learn about this wonderful world. He was much loved and will be greatly missed.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be given to Massachusetts Horticultural Society/Elmbank, for maintaining the greenhouse, Health Care without Walls, or the Birney-Wilson Fund for student support at the Astronomy Department at Wellesley College.
To donate to Mass Hort/Elmbank: https://masshort.org/support/donate/ and click on “Other.” Type “greenhouse” in the comment section, and just below, check off that it is a gift in memory.
Health Care without Walls supports women and children in need in the Boston area: Go to: healthcarewithoutwalls.org/ways-to-give; click on Memorial Gifts.
Astronomy Dept. Wellesley College: Checks payable to Wellesley College can be mailed to:
Wellesley College, Development Office, 106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA 02481
In the memo line, please specify Wilson/Birney Fund in memory of Professor D. Scott Birney.
Or make gifts online through Wellesley College's secure online gift form:
MAKE A GIFT You will be given the option to indicate the gift is in memory of Scott Birney for the Wilson/Birney Fund.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Dion Scott Birney, please visit our floral store.