Thomas "Tom" Alan Griffy was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 16, 1936, to Judson Harmon Griffy Jr. (1894–1976) and Dicie Johnston Griffy (1899–1999). His siblings included brothers, Judson H. S. Griffy, 3rd and Theodore "Ted" J. Griffy; sisters, Billye Blythe Griffy White (husband Harry) and Betty Jean Griffy Wagner (husband John). Judson, Tom's father, was a cashier for an Aetna Life Insurance Company for 35 years. Tom's sister Billye was the first woman to serve as vice-president of a bank in Oklahoma. The three older children were raised during the depression. Tom and Ted were born as the depression ended.
Tom attended Classen High School in Oklahoma City, OK,s and graduated in 1955. He was a standout student in science, math, band and choir. It was while there that he met Penny Lynn Walker, an accomplished flutist, who would later become his wife. Penny's parents were James D. (1912-1988) and Martha Lou Laws (1914–1984) Walker, James and Martha were married Christmas Eve in 1936. James was a 1935 graduate of University of Oklahoma School of Music. He was a trombonist and played with the Oklahoma State Symphony and the Arizona Symphony of Tuscon. He was the band director for the Putnam City school system for 40 years. Martha Lou first attended SMU and then University of Oklahoma where she was a fine arts major studying piano and organ. She was a member of the Polo and Riding Club.
Penny attended Oklahoma City University where she studied flute and played with the Oklahoma City Symphony and various chamber groups.
Tom Griffy and Penny Walker were married in June 6, 1958 at the Epworth Methodist Church in Oklahoma, City, OK. Tom's brother, Ted, was his best man and Elizabeth Higginbotham, Penny's high school friend, was the maid of honor.
As one of the top 10 students in his 1955 graduating high school class, Tom received a full scholarship to Rice Institute when only 200 students were accepted from around the world. There was only a two-year time span between completing his undergraduate degree in 1959, his Masters in 1960 and his PhD all at Rice in 1961. His dissertation was entitled, "Nuclear Interference Effects in Coulomb Excitation." His supervisor was Professor Lawrence "Larry" C. Biedenharn. Tom and Larry were lifelong friends and collaborators.
Following his work at Rice, Tom and Penny moved to Duke University as a Post-Doctoral Fellow with Larry Biedenharn. While at Duke in 1962, Tom published three papers with Biedenharn. Tom and Penny’s first son, David, was born at Duke.
In 1962, the Griffys moved to the West Coast and Stanford University where Tom was invited to work as a research associate with Nobel Prize winner, Robert Hofstadter. Hofstadter was using electron-deuteron inelastic scattering to determine form factors. Several important papers resulted from this collaboration:
"Neutron Form Factors from Inelastic Electron-Deuteron Scattering", E. B. Hughes, T. A. Griffy, M. R. Yearian, and R. Hofstadter, Phys. Rev. 139, B458 – Published 26 July 1965
"Neutron Form Factors from a Study of Inelastic Electron Spectra in the Electrodisintegration of Deuterium" by E. B. Hughes, T. A. Griffy, R. Hofstadter, and M. R. Yearian, Phys. Rev. 146, 973 – Published 24 June 1966.
Tom's time at Stanford was a very prolific period in his research career. He had twelve or more papers that resulted from his work there.
Tom also published a paper with Leonard I. Schiff: "Electromagnetic Form Factors", in High Energy Physics Vol. I, edited by E. H. Burhop, Academic Press, New York, 1967. In 1967, Tom also published a "Resource Letter NR1 on Nuclear Reactions" in the American Journal of Physics. This article was prepared at the request of the AAPT Committee on Resource Letters; supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. This was one of a series of Resource Letters on different topics, intended to guide college physicists to some of the literature and other teaching aids that may help them improve course contents in specified fields of physics.
Tom and Penny's second son, Alan, was born at Stanford, and the family greatly enjoyed vacations to Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, and the Pacific coast.
In 1965, Tom was offered an associate professor faculty position at the University of Texas at Austin. The department was interested in adding strength in nuclear theory to the Center for Nuclear Studies. Tom and Penny decided that this would let them be nearer their families, and Tom accepted the offer. In 1968, Tom was promoted to full professor.
From 1970–1973 and 1996–2000, Tom was Associate Dean of the Graduate School. In 1974, he was selected chair of the physics department and served until 1984, an especially long tenure. Tom was a very popular chair with the department staff. He held many important position at UT. He was for many years Chair of the Patent Committee and was on the Board of Directors of the University Coop.
Early in his time at UT, Tom served as graduate advisor for the department. He was instrumental in revising the graduate curriculum and transforming to a new method of qualifying for PhD candidacy. One of the new requirements was a public seminar by the candidate with follow up questioning by a faculty committee. There was some question as to what was required in the seminar. Tom agreed to give an example seminar to the whole department. This seminar clarified for the students what was expected of them.
Tom was an excellent teacher, always giving well-prepared lectures. His required graduate classes in electrodynamics were very popular with graduate students. He received the College of Natural Sciences Teaching Excellence Award in 1998.
Tom collaborated regularly with the UT Applied Research Laboratory (ARL), supervising graduate students working at the lab. Much of this work was related to underwater acoustics and electromagnetics. Clark Penrod, Executive Director Emeritus, of ARL wrote, "Tom's involvement with ARL began in the 1980s. During that time frame, ARL obtained approval from Department of Defense sponsors to use some funds to support an Independent Research and Development Program (IR&D), as well as a Science and Engineering Apprenticeship program. Dr. Lloyd Hampton was ARL’s director at the time, and he reached out to Tom to be the Educational Programs Coordinator, and to be the initial IR&D program director. Tom helped establish these two programs, their operating procedures and policies, got them off the ground and ran them very successfully for a number of years in the mid-80s. Those programs are still operating at ARL, and they are still operating much as Tom originally set them up. They often are singled out for praise by ARL sponsors. Tom also spent a number of years advising a federal agency in the intelligence community on technology. He was asked to provide science based assessments of various potential national security threats and also of various U.S. countermeasures. For the same agency, he was also quite active in assessing technology to counter terrorist threats. I was engaged in some of these activities and knew some of the sponsors. I was impressed by the fact that everyone I encountered that had worked with Tom had a very high opinion of him and of his contributions to national security. I share that opinion, and we at ARL are very grateful for Tom’s contributions to our programs."
John Wheeler and Harry Swinney gave Tom important credit for Tom's negotiations that resulted in both joining the University of Texas Physics Department, Wheeler in 1976 and Swinney in 1978. Austin Gleeson had asked George Sudarshan, who was speaking at Princeton, to explore with Wheeler a possible UT appointment. Wheeler expressed an interest. Tom invited Wheeler for a visit which went well. Tom's negotiations with John Wheeler can be seen in Griffy-Wheeler Correspondence.
Other important accomplishments that occurred during Tom's tenure as chair was the addition of Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg to the physics faculty, creation of the Institute of Fusion Studies and securing Marshall Rosenbluth to be its director. Interestingly, it was the 1950 Rosenbluth formula for the electron scattering cross-section that included the form factors that Tom used for interpreting the Hofstadter data.
Tom and Penny's daughter, Marjorie was born in Austin. Tom and Penny were active members of St. John’s United Methodist Church since 1965. Tom, a man of faith, created every week for over 30 years Bible lessons for the Wesley Adult Bible Class. He also served as chaplain for the Greater Austin Council of the Navy League of the United States.
Tom was an active member of the Austin Town and Gown Club, an organization formed in 1902 by a group of Austin men who wished to establish a club composed of citizens of Austin ("Town" members) and faculty from the University of Texas ("Gown" members). Tom served as President 1998-1999; 2001-2002 and for a number of years more recently. In addition, Tom served on the Nominating Committee, the Executive Board and as Secretary-Treasurer.
Tom also loved his hobbies, including photography (he developed his pictures in the bathtub), watches, rifles and his group of friends known as “the hamsters,” amateur “ham” radio operators who stayed in touch over the airwaves. His call letters were WA5YAN. Tom also learned to fly and acquired his pilot license.
Tom was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the professional society for physicist. Tom retired in 2003 and was awarded emeritus status. He was a member of the Acoustical Society of America.
Tom Griffy is survived by his wife of 61 years, Penny Walker Griffy, son David and wife Marva, son Alan and wife Tanya, and daughter Marjorie and husband Chris; brother Ted Griffy, granddaughters Shelby and Stella, and great-granddaughter Rory Elizabeth Rieger.
Tom passed on from this earth on May 4, 2019, to be with his Heavenly Father after a short but serious illness. He will be remembered by all as a kind, trustworthy, generous, and learned teacher of the faith. To quote an anonymous friend, “God lived inside of Tom in his mortal life, now Tom will live with God in the eternal life.”
Tom was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 16, 1936. He is preceded in death by his parents, Judson H. Griffy and Dicie Johnston Griffy; brother, J. H. Griffy; sisters, Billye White (husband Harry) and Betty Wagner (husband John).
He is survived by his loving wife of 61 years, Penny Walker Griffy; sons, David and wife Marva, Alan and wife Tanya, and daughter Marjorie and husband Chris. He also leaves behind two granddaughters, Shelby and husband Ryan Rieger and Stella McGriffy, and great-granddaughter Rory Elizabeth Rieger and his brother Ted Griffy.
Tom and Penny met and fell in love at Classen High School in Oklahoma City. After going to different colleges, they married in 1958. As one of the top 10 students in his graduating high school class, Tom received a full scholarship to Rice Institute when only 200 students were accepted from around the world. He finished his undergraduate degree, Masters and PhD all at Rice in 1961, then went to Duke to become a Post-Doctoral Fellow. Tom and Penny’s first son, David, was born at Duke.
The Griffys’ next move was to the West Coast and Stanford University where Tom was invited to work with Nobel Prize winner, Bob Hofstaeter. Their second son, Alan, was born there, and the family took fantastic vacations to Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, and the Pacific coast. But California was a long way from home, so when the University of Texas needed Tom’s specialty in physics, the family packed up and moved to Austin, where homes were cheap and the culture was just right. Tom became a full Professor, then Departmental Chairman, and finally Associate Dean of the Graduate School. Daughter Marjorie was born in Austin, the family’s only native Texan.
Tom, Penny, and their family have been active members of St. John’s United Methodist Church since 1965. Members of the Wesley Adult Bible Class will especially miss Tom’s lessons that he faithfully created every week for over 30 years. Tom also loved his hobbies, including photography (he developed his pictures in the bathtub), watches, and his group of friends known as “the hamsters,” amateur “ham” radio operators who stayed in touch over the airwaves.
A Memorial Service was held in Tom’s honor on Saturday, May 18, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. at St. John’s United Methodist Church, 2140 Allandale Rd. Austin, TX.At the service a eulogy was given by Tom's friend, Roy Walker. Tom's daughter Margorie Griffy Tinnell spoke as a family witness. Keely Rhodes sang The Lords Prayer. The service was officiated by Rev. Hilary Marchbanks. Honorary Pall Bearers were: Ron Parsons, Mike Rea, Roy Walker, Austin Gleeson, Melvin Oakes.
Thomas Alan Griffy Photo and Document Album