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Jane Davenport Fairbank, pioneer for women in physics, dies

Jane Davenport Fairbank, a pioneer for women in physics and longtime member of the Stanford community, died July 1 in Palo Alto. She was 84.

Fairbank was an accomplished scientist, editor and devoted mother. Her decades of community service included serving as president of the Stanford University Women's Club and of the Woodside High School PTA and as a founding member of the Bay Area Consortium on the Educational Needs of Women.

Born Jane Davenport on Aug. 21, 1918, in Seattle, Fairbank graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Whitman College with an A.B. degree in chemistry and physics and was only the second woman to do graduate work in physics at the University of Washington. After the outbreak of World War II, she and her husband, William Martin Fairbank, a professor of physics at Stanford who died in 1989, were invited to leave graduate school and join the war project to develop ship-borne radar at the MIT Radiation Laboratory. Fairbank was the second woman scientist employed at the Radiation Laboratory.

Following the war, she retired from physics and devoted her life to her family. "She always maintained that her sons were her greatest accomplishment," said her son William Fairbank Jr., who lives in Fort Collins, Colo.

Fairbank's third career was as an editor and conference organizer. She co-edited two volumes of Second Careers for Women in 1971 and 1975 and Near Zero, New Frontiers of Physics in 1988 and edited the Radar Maintenance Manual (2 volumes) in 1945. She was a founder of the Senior Alumni College at Whitman College in 1985 and organized its program for about a decade. She received the Gordon Scribner Award for Distinguished Service to Whitman in 1990. She had a special interest in the study of antiquities. With her husband and other friends, she traveled to many sites of ancient civilizations and wrote detailed letters describing her experiences.

For many years she served as the official starter for the Fairbank Memorial Run/Walk/Bike, held each year in memory of her late husband.

In addition to William Jr., Fairbank is survived by a brother, Harold Edwin Davenport Jr. of Seattle; and two other sons, Robert Harold of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and Richard Dana of McLean, Va.; and 13 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 26, at 10 a.m. at Ladera Community Church, 3300 Alpine Road, Portola Valley, Calif. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests sending remembrances to her sons at 1712 Clearview Court, Fort Collins, CO 80521. Memorial gifts can be made to the Jane Davenport Fairbank and Harold and Mildred F. Davenport endowment fund for the acquisition and maintenance of science equipment at Whitman College, attn: Development Office, 345 Boyer Ave., Walla Walla, WA 99362, or to the William M. and Jane D. Fairbank Fund, No. 353F125, for postdoctoral fellowship support in physics at Stanford University, attn: Memorial Gifts, 326 Galvez St., Stanford, CA 94305-6105.



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