Palo Alto Online - Lasting Memories - William Henry Aberth's memorial

William Henry Aberth
Jan. 4, 1933-Sept. 10, 2017
Palo Alto, California

Submitted by Susan Aberth
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William Henry Aberth passed away at Stanford Memorial Hospital on Sunday, September 10, 2017. His death was the result of long-standing complications due to Parkinson’s disease.

His brother Oliver Aberth of College Station, TX and his loving wife of 22 years, Alice Aberth, and four beloved stepsons Jeff Schwartz of Palo Alto, CA, Russell Schwartz of Piedmont, CA, Peter Schwartz of Seattle, WA and David Schwartz of Santa Rosa, CA survive him. He also leaves behind his three children from Theresa Aberth, his first wife, Susan Aberth of Catskill, New York, George Aberth of Palo Alto, CA and Diane Hazelwood of Columbia Missouri. In addition he is also survived by his step-grandchildren: Yovel Schwartz of San Francisco, Samuel Schwartz of Marin, and Alisa and Jasmine Schwarz of Seattle, as well as his two adoring “four-legged children,” Snoopy and Shirley.

“Willie” Aberth was born on January 4, 1933 in Los Angeles to Louise and George Aberth, natives of Strasbourg, Germany. The youngest of nine children, Willie demonstrated an early interest in astronomy and he proudly recalled grinding his own telescope lens at the age of ten to better observe the sky from his family’s apartment located in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, then home to German immigrants. Due to his precocious talents in the sciences, he was admitted into Stuyvesant High School, a specialized and exclusive public school for high achieving New York City residents. After graduating from City College of New York (CCNY), he married Theresa Falbo from the Bronx, and was stationed in Rolla, Missouri, before being sent to La Rochelle, France, as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Upon the completion of his military service he received his Master’s degree at Columbia University and his Ph.D. from New York University in Physics.

In 1963 Willie relocated his family from the Woodlawn section of Bronx, New York, to Palo Alto in Northern California in order to take a position as a nuclear physicist at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) where he worked for over twenty years. He was interested in research pertaining to Mass Spectrometry and left SRI to work with Nobel-Prize winning scientist Linus Pauling, both his colleague and friend. Willie also invented a cesium ion gun used in certain types of mass spectrometers, that he manufactured at home and sold for a number of years. Although his first love was science, it was followed closely by his love of nature and art.

An early environmentalist, Willie was an avid supporter of solar energy, organic gardening and recycling. An enthusiastic camper and hiker, he regularly visited National Parks across the country, but had a particular fondness for the Yosemite and the Sierras. Willie enjoyed a wide range of musical genres from rock to classical to German and American folk music, and among his favorites were everything by Mozart, Gilbert & Sullivan operas, the Carmina Burana, and Judy Collins.

A life-long appreciator of the arts, Willie visited museums around the world and after moving to California, he began to create his own art in different media before settling on ceramics. He made large-scale wall and freestanding ceramic sculpture, inspired in part by Robert Arneson, Roy De Forest and other California artists of the 1960s. Willie’s unique vision included playful political commentaries (such as his Population Bomb), the use dinosaurs and animals in wall plaques and finally, returning to his childhood interest in astronomy, a series of plates depicting planets and galaxies. Although his artwork was often displayed indoors, it was important to him that it also be placed on the exterior of the home as well. His interest in ceramics led to a fortuitous meeting that would profoundly change his life. Deeply saddened by losing his wife Theresa to cancer, he plunged himself into his ceramic work at the Palo Alto Cultural Center where he met the great love of his life, Alice Schwartz.

United by their love of art (ceramics in particular), as well as a zest for travel and culture, Willie and Alice were married on January 10, 1995. Giddy as teenagers dating for the first time, they embarked on a series of trips to Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Hawaii, where they enjoyed exotic dining, looking at art, and filling their days with laughter and romance. Their children now numbered seven and this expansion and co-mingling of family also led to great joy and new adventures. So deep was their love and mutual understanding, not to mention their great appreciation for receiving this second chance at love later in life that they never left each other’s side. Dedicated to making each other happy, in their presence one could truly understand the generosity that love can engender. Stricken with Parkinson’s disease in his seventies, Alice tenderly took care of Willie throughout his long illness, fiercely attentive until the end.

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