William Henry Hunt, 76, accomplished physicist and local Appalachian musician

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William Henry Hunt
William Henry Hunt

William Henry Hunt of Williamsburg passed away on Sept. 22, 2016 after a short but fierce battle with a rare, aggressive form of kidney cancer. Bill was born in Penhook, Virginia, on August 28, 1940, the son of Henry Thomas and Carrie Donley Hunt. He was a loving husband and father, a brilliant scientist, a kind and patient co-worker and a good friend. Bill is survived by his wife of 38 years, Linda Allen Hunt, and their son Thomas Allen Hunt, along with a niece, Sheila Hunt Copenhaver (Vincent) and their daughter, Victoria Tripp (Bryant).

Bill was raised on his father’s tobacco farm in Penhook, about 40 miles southeast of Roanoke near Smith Mountain Lake. Thanks to the encouragement of his physics teacher at Franklin County High School, he competed for and earned a full science scholarship to study physics at the College of William and Mary. After attending graduate school at Princeton University and teaching physics at Hampton High School, Bill returned to W&M where he earned his Master’s Degree in physics. He went on to study for a PhD, but instead of finishing his dissertation, he was lured to work in atmospheric science as a contractor at NASA Langley Research Center. There he was instrumental in developing their lidar (light detection and ranging) program literally from the ground up. From a ground-based instrument to an airborne system, to the proof-of-concept for space-borne lidar, the Lidar In-space Technology Experiment (LITE) that flew on the space shuttle in 1994, to the lidar instrument that has been operating since 2005 on board the CALIPSO satellite, Bill played a significant role in helping to ensure a sound instrument design that would produce useful science data products. His work has been recognized with many awards, including NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Medal.

Bill was an instrumental part of the traditional music scene in Williamsburg. His interest in music came from his grandfather, who played banjo and tuned his radio to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night. Bill began locally by playing for and singing with a good friend at the coffee house held at the Wesley Foundation on the W&M campus, where he also volunteered as a manager (and where he met Linda). He also served for many years on the Wesley Foundation Board of Directors. He continued musically by joining with the Friends of Appalachian Music (FOAM) more than 30 years ago, playing guitar at their monthly dances at Norge Hall, entertaining at First Night Williamsburg, and many other performances. From there he joined with three other musicians to form the group Orion. They have played at various dances and festivals as well as concerts as part of the Williamsburg Library series, at Colonial Williamsburg’s Hennage auditorium, and other venues around the area and across the state. Bill was also an avid photographer, moving from the darkroom to the digital age as he documented family and work events.

Visitation will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 6 to 8 pm at Nelsen Funeral Home, 3758 Strawberry Plains Road in Williamsburg. A Service of Celebration of Bill’s life will begin at 2 pm on Friday, September 30, at Penhook United Methodist Church, Penhook, VA, where he was a charter member, with a reception afterward. Visitation will be held at the church in the hour preceding the service. Interment will be later that afternoon at Franklin Memorial Park, Rocky Mount, VA. At the end of the graveside service, a balloon will be released to honor Bill’s career in atmospheric science. Even if you are not at the service, please take a moment that afternoon to reflect on Bill’s life and the contributions he has made with his research, his music, and as a friend.

In lieu of flowers, consider remembering Bill with a donation in his name to the United Way of Greater Williamsburg (http://www.uwgw.org) or any of its member organizations, the Wesley Foundation at the College of William and Mary (http://www.wmwesley.org), or Penhook United Methodist Church, 29 Morgans Fork Rd, Penhook, VA 24137.

Online condolences may be made at www.nelsencares.com.