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This Octogenarian's at the Heights of His Career : Mountaineer, Photographer and Cartographer Bradford Washburn Sees No Reason to Quit Now

November 20, 1998|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF | THE BALTIMORE SUN

"He slapped down a pair of his exquisite photos and a stereo viewer, and invited us to look. At first, he was the only person in the room who believed we were up to the challenge of the route.

"Gradually, his enthusiasm rubbed off onto us, and the climb that had been a dream of many years for him became a reality for us."

For all his passion for mountains, Washburn says he would like his obituary to lead with: "He had the idea of a Boston Museum of Science, and he built it."

He has been credited with transforming a hole in the wall known as the New England Museum of Natural History in 1939, when he took it over at age 29, into what supporters say was the first museum in the world to unite natural history with physical, applied and medical science.

He hired his wife as secretary. "She's the best thing that ever happened to me," he says.

When he left the museum, he was ready for old projects deferred, such as mapping Mt. Washington and Mt. Everest. He had never climbed Everest, but he considered the existing map of the mountain "lousy."

Just as crisscross flights over Everest were to begin in 1984, Barbara became deathly ill in Katmandu, Nepal. She and Washburn flew to Bangkok, Thailand, where doctors diagnosed cancer and said she had days to live.

The Washburns flew home, while friends took over Washburn's dream project on Everest.

Boston doctors found that Barbara's illness was not cancer, but a rare disease, Wegener's granulamatosis. Her recovery took four years.

Meanwhile, the friends produced 360 faultless vertical stereo photographs of Everest from which, in 1988, Washburn completed the map.

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