Bert Bulkin, who led the effort to launch a space telescope allowing scientists to see the universe with striking new depth and clarity, has died at 82.
Mr. Bulkin, who retired to Woodbridge in 1992, is known for his pivotal role in the creation of the Hubble Space Telescope, a complex and durable instrument that allowed astronomers to map new planets and peer deep into black holes.
Yet he was also a Renaissance man, say family and friends, who loved to sing and play the piano, had a passion for golf, and frequently regaled friends and family with stories of science, government and politics.
He was also a man of humor and warmth, his family recalled. As a Lockheed project manager, for instance, he controlled a vast and intricate project, yet he made the time to fix his school-aged daughter's treasured talking alarm clock.
In retirement, he shared his passion for space through a slide show that he readily presented to school and civic groups.
Mr. Bulkin died Saturday at Lodi Memorial Hospital of multiple health complications.
"Bert was just a fine man, a loving man, and a great leader," recalled John Harlow, a retired NASA project manager living in Alabama. "People loved him, and they loved working for him."
Bertram Raoul Bulkin was born on July 20, 1929 in Brooklyn, N.Y. As a boy growing up in Brooklyn and in Red Bank, New Jersey, he watched Buck Rogers serials, dreamed of space travel — and had a knack for "fixing" items around the house, including some that weren't broken.
His father moved the family to Southern California to pursue new business interests and Mr. Bulkin was graduated from John Marshall High School in Los Angeles at age 16. He earned his degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles.
He joined Lockheed as a detail draftsman. He was quickly promoted to design engineer and worked on varied secret launch missions, including the programs which led to the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba. After a stint working as an executive at ITT, he returned to Lockheed, eventually being named project engineer for the Hubble.
Bringing the Hubble to launch required years of design work, gallons of sweat and limitless patience. Colleagues say Mr. Bulkin never wavered and never lost his cool.
"He wouldn't crack the whip," recalled Jim Carlock, a Lockheed colleague, now retired. "He inspired people by leading the charge, setting the example. People loved working for him."
Using the Hubble, stargazers have seen the heavens with jaw-dropping clarity.
"Telescopes on the ground have to peer through the atmosphere. That's what makes the stars twinkle. So getting a telescope above the atmosphere, on a stable platform, was a huge achievement," Carlock said.
Throughout his career, Mr. Bulkin had a child-like sense of wonder about space, and he wanted to share it. As the Hubble project progressed, he insisted that the final assembly center include large viewing windows so the public could see the amazing instrument as it was completed. The Hubble was launched on April 24, 1991.
Mr. Bulkin retired from Lockheed in 1992 as director of scientific space programs and moved to Woodbridge. He served on the National Academy of Science's blue-ribbon panel exploring options for extending the life of the Hubble, which remains in space and continues to relay data.
He was a popular guest speaker at Rotary Clubs and other civic groups and a volunteer for the Lodi Unified School District.
In 2008, he was inducted into the Lodi Hall of Fame sponsored by the Lodi Boys and Girls Club. In a story announcing his induction, he described the glory of learning: "The more you learn, the better off you are. The more research you do, the more knowledge you gain."
Harlow, the retired NASA manager, said Mr. Bulkin's humanity was as impressive as his intelligence.
"He was truly a man for all seasons," he said.
Mr. Bulkin loved good wine and a good round of golf.
"He was a wonderful friend and brilliant man," said one of his golfing buddies, George Merritt of Woodbridge.
Merritt and others recalled Mr. Bulkin as a man of great good cheer.
"He was so generous and so loving," said his widow, Maggie Talbot Bulkin.
His daughter, Stephanie Roberts of Seattle, said people were naturally attracted to her father's warmth and intellect. He loved playing the piano and singing at family gatherings, she said. He had a staggering range of knowledge, she said, and as a girl, her friends would come to the Bulkin home just to listen to her father talk about science, current affairs or politics.
And she recalled her father, though a very busy man, was a doting father. When she was about 8, she had a Hollie Hobby talking alarm clock that, rather abruptly, stopped talking. She was dejected.
Her father, ever the tinkerer, took the clock to his workbench and, in a short time, had it working again.
"He was was just a very loving, very wonderful man," she said. "I feel sorry for anyone who didn't know him."
Mr. Bulkin was preceded in death by his parents David and Anne Bulkin, his sister Shirley Katz Livingston, his first wife Bernice Horn, and his later wife Carolyn Walker. He is survived by his widow, Maggie Talbot Bulkin; his sons, Steve, Bruce, Keith, David and Carl; his daughter, Stephanie; nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren; many nephews and nieces; and a circle of extended family and friends.
A celebration and remembrance for Mr. Bulkin will be held March 20 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Oak Ridge Vineyards, 6400 E. Highway 12 in Lodi. In lieu of flowers, please send donations in his name to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum via the Smithsonian website or by mail to the Smithsonian Institution, Contribution Receipt Center, P.O. Box 9016, Pittsfield, MA 01202-9016.