In Memoriam: Edwin A. Bemis, Jr., CHP


by Sandy Geoffrion and Tom Buhl, CHP

Edwin A. Bemis, Jr., passed away 14 July 2005 in Los Alamos, New Mexico, following a year-long battle with cancer. Ed was one of our pioneer health physicists, working in health physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) (then Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory-LASL) for 33 years. He was a founding member of the Health Physics Society and one of the first 100 health physicists certified by the American Board of Health Physics. Ed was also an accomplished musician and an invaluable and often-recognized citizen of the Los Alamos community. As a health physicist at LANL from 1947 to 1980, Ed had a special interest in the dosimetry and measurement of external radiation. He had a key role in the development of the LANL personnel dosimeter, which was then based on film, and later on thermoluminescent dosimeters. Ed participated in the design of pocket dosimeters and survey instruments and wrote a review article for the 1956 Hine and Brownell publication Radiation Dosimetry (Academic Press, New York: 1956). He also coauthored an early report on neutron dose-rate measurements near the Godiva II critical assembly at LANL.

Ed was heavily involved in LANL projects at the Nevada Test Site and participated in the testing program at Enewetak. Much of the work involved the measurement of fallout from the test clouds. According to his daughter, Sandy, he described his experience at Enewetak as interesting and professionally rewarding, but island living as "rustic." Ed was interested in explaining health effects of radiation to the public and regularly gave talks on radioactive fallout. He was a member of the Los Alamos Civil Defense Board.

Jerry Dummer, CHP, former group leader of LANL's occupational health physics program, noted how Ed was very helpful to him as a young health physicist arriving at LANL in 1953 and how Ed helped in the early edition of the LASL monitor's handbook that Jerry was preparing. Ed was very knowledgeable about radiation detection instrumentation, not only in its design but, of course, in its ongoing operation. Jerry said that if anyone "had anything to be fixed, Ed always got the job."

Ed was born 5 November 1919 in Littleton, Colorado, the son of Edwin and Katherine Bemis. Ed studied undergraduate and graduate physics at the University of Colorado, where he taught physics to Navy fliers; played clarinet, trombone, and piano in a dance band; learned to pilot a biplane; and competed in a national biplane competition sponsored by Jimmy Doolittle. He was a talented classical musician as well, in voice, piano, and pipe organ.

After serving from 1944 to 1946 in the Navy in the South Pacific and Japan, he returned to the University of Colorado and then came to Los Alamos in 1947, when the streets were still paved with mud.

In addition to his professional work at LANL, Ed was very involved in serving the community of Los Alamos. In the arts, he was president of the Arts Council, a founding member of Coro de Cámara, president of the Choral Society, president of the Los Alamos Concert Association, president of the Los Alamos Student Concert Association, and a member of a two-piano, four-hands group and he sang with various local groups.

Ed participated in the founding of several of the community's mainstay organizations. To name a few, he was a founding member and president of the Los Alamos Historical Society and a founder of the family YMCA. He was a member of the first Los Alamos Charter Commission, and he helped found the Triangle Club for AA members. Ed was a member of the architectural planning committee for Los Alamos Library and, as a member of its endowment committee, he helped to establish the Library Endowment Fund. He received the Governor's Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Volunteer Service in 1983.

In 2001, Los Alamos conferred its highest honor upon Ed, that of "Living Treasure," in recognition of his many years of community service.

Ed was married for nearly 50 years to Darleene Christensen, who passed away in 1995. He is survived by his daughters, Christen Howell, New Mexico, M'Lou B. Stevens and her daughter, Washington, DC, and Sandy Geoffrion, New Mexico.