The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of former employee , on July 6, 2007, at Greenbriar Terrace Nursing Home in Nashua, NH. He was 80.
Steve was born in New Rochelle, NY, on January 18, 1927. Always a hands on guy, he built a Morse code network to two friends’ houses in Larchmont, NY, was a boy scout, a Larchmont fireman with uniform for seven years, a speed skater on Larchmont ponds or the frozen ocean, photographer who got is film developed at his father’s Industrial Photography Studio, built a sailing canoe rig, an engine rebuilder, and a sewing machine repairman for mothers designer dress job.
Steve was drafted by the Army Air Force into the very end of WWII one month before his high school graduation. He participated in the 4th and 5th (Able and Baker) nuclear bomb (tests) on Bikini Atoll, Pacific Ocean, with the job (with 15 others) of developing the ‘tons’ of film from hundreds of cameras in circling planes with generals leaning over his shoulder in 1946, which was attended by 40,000 airmen, sailors, dignitaries and 11 foreign nation’s dignitaries. The Army gave out a 150-page color-leather bound Nuke Test Yearbook to each participant. Steve then went to college in Rutland, VT.
He was an AAF press photographer for Eddi Rickenbacker and General Douglas MacArthur, as well as the ‘Vermont 1947 Flood’ and college yearbook photographer. Steve then got a job at IBM, Tensolite Wire, Nuclear Dev. Corp. After working at Tensolite Wire, he began his career at WHOI in 1957 as a technician. Steve obtained four patents related to WHOI lowering equipment, one with Willard Dow. Three more patents were later at his Sanders job. Steve went on 15 WHOI science ocean cruises doing seismic profiling, continuous temperature profiling, mooring of buoys, bottom coring, course plotting, buoy design, sea bottom photography and camera control. Steve used oscilloscopes, precision graphic recorders, deep sea acoustic telemetering hydrophones, navigation by Dr. Loran A., a Decca optical range finder, and a radar transponder. He left WHOI in 1966.
The Navy contacted WHOI to assist in a lost submarine rescue 220 miles at sea. Steve was the operator of a precision echo sounder lowered 2,560 meters to both map the ocean floor around and locate the lost nuclear submarine Thresher, which sunk April 10, 1963. A talk about this search was done in several times in 1971 when working at Sanders and published in the newspaper. Steve told the story many times to those that would listen about his ear technique to keep the sounder 30 feet off the ocean floor by listening to the ping and echo almost imperceptible delay and yell to the winch operator up two or down two. A large map of the area was made by a grid of ship towing’s. A picture was made of Steve showing Thresher Search Leader, Navy Captain Frank Andrews, his findings below deck of Atlantis II. Steve and Willard Dow had previously made the echo sounder at WHOI. The Navy gave the WHOI ragged workers a free Norfolk Destroyer trip home to their wives…at flank speed!
Steve built his house in N. Falmouth, MA, nearly all by himself, laid all stones lining the deep drive under garage way, and built nearly all the furniture, drop side table, dry sink, coffee tables, side tables, couch, several desks, sewing machine table, and more in later house. Living two miles from woodworker Bill Dunkle from WHOI, they became great friends. Steve built two iceboats in N. Falmouth and another monster ice boat in Hollis, NH. The massive and complex trailing pivot runners of thick aluminum were created at WHOI and worked well.
Steve was in a picture in Life Magazine in June 1963, about the search. Steve has a photo of the echo sounder on the ship taken about May 10, 1963, and it was lost on the last lowering. It was also that which had a crude basket attached to its bottom that retrieved the Thresher battery plate evidence and an ocean boulder 6-inch wide that is still in the family collections. There are a few personal photos by Steve from the mission, never released, and about 100 color slide photos from WHOI cruises in the 1960’s.
Steve got a large house in Hollis, NH, in 1968 that he quickly equipped with an engine shop with welder doubling as a woodshop, a cellar machine shop with lathe, doubling as an electronics shop, and a darkroom photo shop with sons’ chemistry-kit lab. Hours and hours were spent at shop projects by Steve developing a furniture duplicator machine. The homemade pop-up-roof by cables camper-trailer for the family of five was finished in 1964.
Steve met his wife Sue Brown when ice skating near her NY college the next town north in 1954. They married in 1955. They had three children Steve of Shrewsbury, MA, Lynn of Epsom, NH, and Lee of Merrimack, NH; and two grandchildren. His wife Sue passed away in 2022.
Steve was cremated and remains interred at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery, Boscawen, NH, in 2007.
Information for this obituary is from the Stillman family.