Remembering Betty Shor

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Betty Noble Shor, author of three books on the history of science, the acknowledged historian of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, an editor, and a dedicated volunteer, died Oct. 13 at the home of her family in Honolulu, Hawaii.  She was a longtime resident of La Jolla, Calif.

Betty was born into a life of science. Her father was a professor of mining geology at Caltech and Betty had a sense of scientific curiosity that followed her through life.

She married George Shor in 1950 and he became a graduate student in the Caltech Seismology Lab working under the direction of Charles Richter.  When Richter, who had a keen eye and appreciation for talent, overheard Betty asking questions about the complex work being done in the lab, he offered her a job as a paid lab assistant, a position at which she excelled.

The Shors moved to Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1953 and spent the remainder of their careers here.  Betty participated in many research expeditions from 1971 to 1992 when her children were growing and George served as chief scientist. She stood watch on those trips and sailed as far as Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, and other exotic locales. A guyot (a flat-topped submarine mountain) was  named Betty Guyot in her honor.

Betty’s talents extended beyond her lab experiences and turned to research and publishing. 

At Scripps, she worked for famed ichthyologist Carl L. Hubbs until his death in 1979, then maintained his files and library for many years.  At the request of then-Scripps Director William Nierenberg, she was hired to write a history of Scripps, which was published in 1978 at the time of the institution’s 75th anniversary. The book, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Probing the Oceans, 1936-1976, remains the definitive history of the institution during the mid-20th century.  During this time, she gathered historical records and established the archives of Scripps Oceanography.

"Betty was the walking memory of the institution," said Deborah Day, retired archivist for Scripps Oceanography. "She knew everyone, and there was no one more knowledgeable in Scripps history. She was always the first to volunteer to write or edit material especially on history of ocean science and geology.  She was the author of several books, and wrote many important biographical articles on scientists published in the essential biographical directories."

She is also the author of Fossils and Flies, a biography of her husband’s grandfather Samuel Wendell Williston, an early American paleontologist, published in 1971, and  The Fossil Feud, about a famous competition between paleontologists Othniel C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, published in 1974.

She joined a group of active volunteers dedicated to Scripps and participated in the restoration of the George H. Scripps Memorial Marine Biological Laboratory, called the Old Scripps Building, the oldest building on the UC San Diego campus, and designed by noted architect Irving Gill.

Betty officially retired from employment at Scripps in 1983, but that only sparked more dedication to the institution and the broader campus.  She volunteered in the education department of Scripps Aquarium and devoted a great deal of time and energy to the Friends of the International Center at UC San Diego. She was also an active member of the Scripps Ancient Mariners.

In addition to science, another passion Betty shared with George was the compilation of the flowering characteristics for the world’s species of bamboo, a listing that has grown beyond 125 pages.

Betty is survived by her children, Alexander Noble Shor, Carolyn Elizabeth Shor Large, and Donald Williston Shor, and seven grandchildren.  Her husband George Shor died in 2009.

Information about memorial services will be posted here at a later date.  To send tribute messages about Betty for posting on this website, please send email to: scrippsnews@ucsd.edu .

Tributes to Betty Shor

She was a wonderful mentor to me for many years at Scripps and also a very dear friend.  I saw her about once a week until she left for Hawaii and we spent many years as volunteers for the Friends Resale Shop on Monday morning.  We had a great time.  Not only will I miss her dearly, I will also miss her Chocolate Chip cookies which she baked every week and always shared them with me.  My heart and prayers go out to her wonderful family.

Hugs, Nona Crampton

Betty was my cousin.  I was a lot younger than my cousins and thus as a young man did not interact with them.  The past few years I have been corresponding by e-mail with Betty and did not receive an answer to my past two e-mails and finally got worried. I checked Google and was saddened to hear of her passing.  She had recently sent me a copy of her article on Errol Flynn about his interaction with Scripps. I am a film buff.  I remember Betty as always being full of fun. When I was 10 years old the entire Noble family came to Boston for her brother Jimmy's graduation from Harvard. She was singing all the tunes from Oklahoma, then on Broadway. I most remember dancing with her at the commencement ceremonies. My cousin Vernon and I are the last remaining members of that generation of cousins.  Again I am truly sorry to read of her passing.

Bob McClellan

I have fond memories of Betty (and George) from my time at SIO as a graduate student and research assistant. The Navy let me go from active duty in the fall of 1955. I started my master's program immediately, even though the fall semester was half over. My recollection is that Betty and George, along with Walter and Judy Munk and the Townsend Cromwells, were among the founders of Scripps Estates. I have fond memories of being in all their houses overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In later years my interactions with Betty were only by correspondence. (I can recall visiting SIO only twice since I left in June 1957: in 1973 on a visit arranged by Ed Goldberg, and in 1981, as Historian of the U. S. Geological Survey, I did an oral history interview with Bill Menard.) Betty and I both contributed to the multi-volume Dictionary of Scientific Biography. It's sad to learn she is no longer with us. My heartfelt condolences to her family, colleagues, and friends.

Harold L. Burstyn, Attorney-at-Law (NY & FL)
and Registered Patent Attorney

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