William Telfer "Bill" Kirk, 1927-2003
Assistant to the SLAC Director
Professional and Biographical Information
Tribute by W. K. H. Panofsky, Beam Line Quarterly, Winter 1992
THIS ISSUE OF THE BEAM LINE marks a transition for its founder and present co-editor, Bill Kirk who will retire from SLAC and the coeditorship of the Beam Line on February 28. This guest editorial is to enlighten Beam Line readers on Bill's 37 years of contributions to particle physics and to this journal in particular. In fact, for much of the time since the birth of the Beam Line in 1974 to its reincarnation in 1988 Bill Kirk was the Beam Line. He wrote almost all its text. I watched him doing the layouts, composing the prose, and doing the typography in a variety of fonts with the meticulousness which, as far as I can tell, he learned from building the "perfect" model railroad at home.
The original Beam Line as conceived and executed by Bill was a true innovation. It became a popular science journal of high tutorial value. For instance, the April 1978 "High Energy Physics-An Introduction" was widely used to expose lay persons to the subject. In that spirit there were editions describing the workings of PEP, the general operation of storage rings, the history of the discovery of the psi particles, etc. But then there were also more "newsy" editions which kept people at SLAC informed about the important goings on.
It is always difficult in a place like SLAC, where no final products other than paper come out the back door, to adequately communicate with everyone as to what we are doing and what we are about. The Beam Line went a long way towards filling that gap. At the same time, because of its high standards, it also became a highly reputable and recognized publication for the community at large.
Bill Kirk joined SLAC in 1956, that is one year before the laboratory was even proposed. His initial job was in response to an advertisement by the then Director of the Microwave Laboratory, Professor Edward L. Ginzton, for an assistant, and Bill immediately became Ed's right-hand man. When the group planning what was then Project M started meeting during off hours in order to plot the creation of the world's leading linear electron accelerator laboratory, Bill coordinated the operation of that group and documented its many conclusions. That early phase of his work culminated in the "Stanford Proposal for a Two-Mile Linear Accelerator," dated April 1957, whose prose is largely Bill's work. Characteristically, his name does not appear in the proposal, although acknowledgements to other contributors are profusely strewn about in it. The rest is history the proposal was submitted to three diverse government agencies, received the support of the then Atomic Energy Commission, and from there the path continued through Congressional authorization and construction of SLAC.
Bill has served the Laboratory in a variety of ways, always unobtrusive and always a perfectionist. He was the editor of innumerable conference proceedings and his services in that respect were very much in demand by laboratories other than SLAC throughout the world. He mediated innumerable "people controversies," usually successfully. He wrote planning documents for the Laboratory and had the knack, unusual for such documents, of having content take precedence over form, a practice only very rarely followed today!
Bill's joining what became SLAC and his continued service there was to a large extent unplanned. He had many other ambitions: he wished to be a novelist and an athlete, among other things. The love of those avocations affected much of his work at SLAC. He insisted on a high level of literacy and respect for the English language throughout the Laboratory, and particularly in reference to the Beam Line. He organized, presided over, and participated in a multitude of athletic events, including the annual SLAC slugfest between the theorists and experimentalists in baseball. He himself continued other athletic activities, both personally and with his children.
Burt Richter has placed Bill Kirk in charge of all the Laboratory's information activities. After his retirement his shoes will be hard to fill, both in that position and at the Beam Line. SLAC, the Stanford community, and scientific people throughout the world owe Bill thanks and admiration for a job well done, for his work on publications and for keeping the SLAC Director out of unintended troubles.
William T. "Bill" Kirk papers held by the SLAC Archives, History & Records Office are currently being processed, and are not yet open for research. SLAC staff may access descriptions of his papers by clicking this link and entering his last name in the search box at the upper right on that page.
Note: Some links on this page open pdf files, which require the free Acrobat Reader.
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