In Memoriam – Dr. Larry Philip Atkinson

December 24, 2020

Dr. Larry Philip Atkinson, Eminent Scholar Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography at Old Dominion University, died December 22nd, 2020. He was 79.

Larry was the only child of Lola and Don Atkinson, and was born in Ames, Iowa in 1941. After a short stint in Iowa, the family settled in Bellingham, Washington, and Larry’s life of adventure truly began. Those childhood experiences in Bellingham, from Sea Scout, to commercial salmon fisherman, to being a member of the ski patrol on Mt. Baker, provided him with a lifetime of stories, and a foundation for what was to come. He began college at Western Washington University, afterwards transferring to the University of Washington, where he received his Bachelors and Master’s Degrees in Chemical Oceanography in 1964 and 1967, respectively; but most importantly during this time he met his wife Ann. In the midst of school, Larry and Ann married in Puyallup, Washington in 1966, and began a life of adventure that would span the globe, drawing a great many friends, family, and colleagues into their sphere. Moving across the country after graduation, from Washington to Beaufort, NC, Larry worked as a Research Associate at Duke Marine Lab from 1966-1968. In 1969, Larry was accepted into Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and received his Ph. D. in Oceanography in 1972.  After graduation, they headed south to Savannah, Georgia.  

From 1972-1985 he held various positions at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in Savannah, GA, and during that time expanded his family with two sons, Berg in 1977 and Sten in 1983, both named after the Norwegian heritage of his wife Ann. In 1985, he accepted a position at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, and soon after, his vision and leadership helped to create the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography at Old Dominion University. During his time at Old Dominion, between 1985 and 2019, he held many positions at the University, among them Director for the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, Chair of the Department of Oceanography, and as the Samuel and Fay Slover Professor of Oceanography. Throughout his career, he served on panels and committees at the local, university, state, and national levels, and spent many years travelling the world, spending time at sea researching the oceans which he loved. His research topics included studies of nutrient supplies, hydrographic variability in eastern and western boundary currents, sea level rise, climatology of coastal waters, and high-frequency radar measurements of surface currents. His love of Oceanographic research led him to do field studies off the US East Coast, Japan, Chile, southern California, and northwest Spain.

But maybe his most important contribution to Oceanography, and the superpower which he will be most remembered for, was his amazing ability to bring together people from all over the world for common goals and purposes, which he did his entire career. To the very end, he tried to mentor, tutor, and bring together the next generation of Oceanographers. In 2020, in recognition of his contributions, and his ability to bring people together from across the globe, the National Science Foundation Ocean Observatories Facility Board established the Larry P. Atkinson Travel Fellowship for Students and Early Career Scientists, to enable students and scientists from across the globe to continue to come together, and advance human knowledge and the   understanding of our Oceans for years to come. 

Some of Larry’s favorite hobbies included astronomy, photography, gardening, skiing, fishing, travelling with immediate and extended family, family vacations on the Outer Banks, video chatting with family, and getting people together. 

Survivors include his wife, Ann H. Atkinson wife of 54 years; his oldest son, Berg, his wife Maggie, and his beloved grandchildren Astrid and Clara, and his youngest son Sten, and his wife Allison. Surviving extended family in the Pacific Northwest include a sister in law and brother in law, and 4 nieces and a nephew, to whom he was always known as “Funs up, Larr!”. In Norway, special relatives Liv and Audun Tjomsland and Hans and Wigdis Narverud who were great traveling companions for 50 years.  He also leaves behind his lifelong friendships with his BHS classmates of ‘59 who added to his quality of life until the end.  He will be sorely missed not only by his family, but all those that knew him, personally and professionally.

The family will have no service at his request, and will scatter his ashes in the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic Ocean, so that he may forever be a part of the oceans he so loved. In his memory be kind to each other, bring people together, and cherish your friendships.

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