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Former NMC Director Frederick Gale Shuman Dies

A numerical weather prediction pioneer, Frederick Gale Shuman, died of congestive heart failure July 29, 2005, at the Fort Washington Hospital Center in Fort Washington, MD. Familiarly known as "Fred" to his many friends and associates, he was the Charter Member of the Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Unit formed in 1954 and subsequently served with distinction as Director of the National Meteorological Center (precursor of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction) from 1964 to 1981.

"We will remember Fred Shuman as a true pioneer in the development of operational numerical weather prediction," said Brig. Gen. D.L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), NWS Director. "He took part in major events that have brought it from academic concepts to its present role as the centerpiece of modern meteorology and the basis of today's forecast services."

Shuman was born on July 13, 1919, in South Bend, IN, where his father worked in the design shop of the Studebaker Motor Company. He attended the public schools in South Bend and graduated from South Bend Central High School in 1937. He attended Ball State University in Muncie, IN, and earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1941. He entered military service in June 1941 and served during World War II as a weather officer.

After his discharge from the military, Fred resumed his career with the U.S. Weather Bureau (USWB). He earned a Doctor of Science (Sc.D.) degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951. He authored the first doctoral thesis at MIT on NWP. The only action in that field at that time was at the Princeton Institute, so the Weather Bureau sent him to the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at Princeton, NJ, where he worked further on NWP. In 1954, he returned to Washington and reported for official reassignment to the Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Unit (JNWPU) established initially in the hayloft of the stables at 24th and M Streets, located on the grounds of the old Mexican Embassy, which had become the Central Office of the USWB.

In January 1958, the USWB established the National Meteorological Center (NMC) at FOB4 in Suitland, MD, by merging the JNWPU with the National Weather Analysis Center. Shuman served as Chief of its Development Division. In the years that followed, the NMC always has strived to acquire the fastest and most powerful computers developed.

Shuman was selected as the Director of the NMC in April 1964 when George Cressman became Director of the National Weather Service. After serving for nearly 17 years in the position, Shuman retired as Director, NMC, in January 1981, and stepped down as a retired annuitant in the Development Division. He resigned that latter position in May 1986 and left the Federal Service after what he called "a satisfying and eventful career." His meritorious and exceptional Federal service during his tenure was recognized by the Department of Commerce by awarding him the Commerce Silver Medal in 1957 and the Gold Medal in 1967.

"On more than one occasion while he was director of the NMC, Dr. Shuman was heard to say that the Center could run by itself," said James G. "Jim" Howcroft, retired Deputy NMC Director. "I know for a fact that is not true, but even if one were to accept the least possibility of that statement being valid–I would view it as a tribute to the man and his management style. Fred was a very kind person with a dry sense of humor who did good things for lots of people. He was strong in convictions but gentle and quiet in his actions. He knew how to choose the right person to do a task and then to trust him or her to do it without interference for as long as he or she seemed to be on a path that seemed to be going in the right direction. He was a good listener and gave sage advice when it was requested of him. He inspired loyalty in his people by his example and by his good deeds. Perhaps the Center could have run by itself, but it surely helped a lot to have him around. We are the poorer for having lost him, but the richer for having known him."

He was a Fellow of the AMS and, in 1980, shared The Second Half Century Award with Dr. Andre Robert in recognition of his pioneering efforts and contributions in the field of numerical weather prediction (NWP). The award was later renamed The Charney Award and is one of the most prestigious awards given by the American Meteorological Society.

Fred is survived by his wife of 59 years, Helen Fragomeni Shuman of Ft. Washington, MD; by his son Frederick G. D. Shuman of Laurel, MD; his daughters Marianne Ferrin of Philadelphia, PA, and Deborah Joan Shuman of Silver Spring, MD; and by two grandchildren Michael and Anna Ferrin, also of Philadelphia, PA. His sister Margaret Smith of Lansing, MI, and brother Richard Shuman of Green Valley, AZ, also survive him.

Look for a more detailed profile of Shuman, written by Howcroft, in an upcoming issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The Washington Post has a brief obituary and guestbook online here.

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