Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Bill Putnam, Lowell Trustee Emeritus, dies at age 90

  • Updated
  • 0
William Lowell Putnam III

William Lowell Putnam III

Lowell Observatory has announced the death of William Lowell Putnam III, who only last year passed the responsibilities of sole trustee of the observatory to his son, W. Lowell Putnam IV.

Putnam, known to all as Bill, died Saturday at the age of 90.  He had served for 26 years as the fourth sole trustee of the Flagstaff observatory founded in 1894 by great uncle Percival Lowell 

Lowell Observatory director Jeffrey Hall said, “Bill Putnam is one of the monumental figures in the 120-year history of Lowell Observatory. The institution will forever benefit from his devotion and dedication to enhancing our research capabilities, expanding our outreach facilities, and beautifying our grounds. He will be deeply missed.”

During his tenure, the number of astronomers on staff grew to 18. The facility saw the addition of a new, 6,500-square-foot visitor center and an archive facility that houses the observatory’s collection of rare photographic glass plates, manuscripts, library of scientific publication, and other documents and artifacts.

Also under Putnam’s leadership, the observatory developed and funded the Discovery Channel Telescope, the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States, located near Happy Jack. As part of this $53 million project, Putnam helped establish partnerships between the observatory and Boston University, University of Maryland and the University of Toledo, with other potential partnerships still being negotiated.

Putnam and his second wife, Kathryn Elizabeth Putnam (“Kitty”), made significant  contributions to various organizations in the Flagstaff community, including the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, United Way of Northern Arizona and Flagstaff festival of Science. Earlier this year he was honored with the Viola Legacy Award, given annually to a citizen for a lifetime of contributions to the arts and/or sciences in the Flagstaff area.

Bill Putnam was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on Oct. 25, 1924, the third of six children born to Roger and Caroline Putnam. While studying geology at Harvard, he volunteered to fight in World War II, enlisting as a private and joining the elite 10th Mountain Division, a specialized ski unit trained to fight in mountainous and arctic conditions. He served in both the Aleutian and Italian campaigns, rising to the rank of first lieutenant. He was awarded two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained and earned the Silver and Bronze Stars for gallantry in action.

After the war ended, Putnam returned to Harvard to finish his schooling in geology and then briefly taught this subject at Tufts University. In September, 1951 Bill married Joan Faith Fitzgerald. The couple’s second child, William Lowell Putnam IV (Lowell) was born in 1954 and in 2013 succeeded his father as Sole Trustee of Lowell Observatory.

Moving back to Springfield, Bill turned his attention to television. In 1953, he founded WWLP, Springfield’s first TV station and the first licensed UHF television station in the United States. For his pioneering efforts, Putnam was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2001.

While making a name for himself in the broadcasting world, Putnam also became prominent in alpinist circles. He made several first ascents and exploratory expeditions in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, establishing himself as a distinguished American climber. He served as president of the American Alpine Club and vice president and councilmember of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA). Putnam edited Canadian Rockies climbing guidebooks for years and in 2002, an alpine hut in the Selkirk Mountains was renamed the Bill Putnam Hut in his honor.

Putnam later took up writing and authored a score of books about a variety of topics, including mountain climbing, Lowell Observatory history, his wartime adventures, his recollections of the early days of WWLP, railroads, merchant ships of World War I, and freedom of the press.

After retiring from broadcasting, Putnam assumed the Sole Trusteeship of Lowell Observatory from his brother Michael in 1987, retiring in 2013.

Putnam is survived by his children Katherine E. Putnam (Timothy Delaney), Lowell Putnam (Kim) and Erica Broman (Christopher Millette); stepchildren Karen Talbot (David) and Morgan Broman (Amy Dale); brothers Roger and Michael Putnam; sisters Anna Lowell Tomlinson and Polly Chatfield; grandchildren and step grandchildren Eleanor L. Putnam-Farr, Keith C. Putnam Delaney, Margaret D. Putnam Delaney, Sara and Jennifer Putnam, Hale Alexander Talbot (Aki Kamozawa), Meredith Studioso (Brian), Russell Dale Broman, Graham and Flynn Vickowski; and assorted nieces, nephews and great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at the Barney Carriage House at Forest Park in Springfield, Mass., on Saturday, Dec. 27, from 1-3 p.m. Another service will be held in Flagstaff sometime in 2015.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to any of these organizations:

• Lowell Observatory, 1400 W. Mars Hill Rd., Flagstaff, AZ 86001

• Roger and Caroline Putnam Scholarship, Holyoke Community College Foundation, 303 Homestead Ave., Holyoke, MA 01040

• Mount Washington Observatory, P.O. Box 2310, North Conway, NH 03860


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News

Breaking News (FlagLive!)