Heathers magical spirit will live on

Heather Williamson Messenger, Executive Editor of Laser Focus World, died untimely on January 3, 1998. Tributes to her arrive daily. Here are a representative few.--Ed.

Mar 1st, 1998
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Heather`s magical spirit will live on

Heather Williamson Messenger, Executive Editor of Laser Focus World, died untimely on January 3, 1998. Tributes to her arrive daily. Here are a representative few.--Ed.

When Heather hired me fresh out of college to help her launch the first issue of Spectroscopy magazine in 1985, I was new to science, to publishing, and to my newly adopted home of Eugene, Oregon. Heather was an expert in--and tireless proponent of--all three and was an ideal teacher. She taught me, among other things, that Beer`s Law had nothing to do with closing time, that a free magazine didn`t have to be a "throw-away," and that the Pacific Northwest was a wonderful place to live and work. Heather and the rest of our group of friends and coworkers in those days worked in cramped quarters and played in Oregon`s great open spaces with equal enthusiasm. Heather`s legendary laugh provided the soundtrack to all of these adventures.

When I last saw her, in October of last year, she seemed profoundly happy with her dual role as editor and mother. During a business lunch with a mutual colleague, I was treated once again to Heather`s unique talent for toggling effortlessly between apparently unrelated subjects (say, for example, laser biometrics and a cute thing her son had said the day before) and somehow establishing a meaningful connection by the end of the meal. In situations like this, where her native intelligence and limitless energy came together to create magic, Heather could seem almost superhuman. Yet, of course, she wasn`t immortal or indestructible.

As news of the events of January 3 began to spread among her long-time friends, many of us now wonder if we focused too much on the magic and not enough on the realities of her sometimes complicated life. These thoughts aside, we can take heart that Heather`s magical spirit will live on and that the good things she did during her life have touched so many. Although nothing can replace what we`ve lost, nothing can take away the gifts Heather gave to all who knew her.

Michael MacRae

Editor, Spectroscopy

In my six months of working with Heather at Laser Focus World, I came to see her not only as the spark but also as the driving engine that made Laser Focus World what it is. Her influence was everywhere, from editorial to marketing to design: pushing and cajoling, nicely but firmly. Always talking, always walking, always caring, always teaching.

Most of all I will miss her late afternoon phone calls. After everyone else on the East Coast had gone home for the day and Heather was commuting back from New Hampshire to Connecticut, she would call me in California from her car phone. Sometimes I would be on my car phone too, and we would weave in and out of freeway traffic and cellular phone disconnects on opposite coasts, while talking, laughing, and planning. Work stuff, but also kid stuff--swapping stories about her young one and my old ones. Working with Heather meant working hard, but her attitude also made it hard not to enjoy your job.

For a couple of days after her death, I purposely stopped carrying my mobile phone with me when I was out of the office after 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time. I didn`t want to hear it ring and then have to speak with someone else, all the while thinking of my newly found and suddenly lost coworker and friend.

Hassaun Jones-Bey

Senior Editor, Laser Focus World

As a contributing editor stationed 3000 miles away, I did not have occasion to interact with Heather as often as the rest of the Laser Focus World staff. But I still felt a strong connection to her, and our phone conversations were always as much about our lives and the people in them as about the task at hand.

Here are some of the things I will miss now that Heather is no longer just a phone call away: pictures of her and Dane in the snow, squinting into the sun, red-cheeked and smiling . . . her prolific green thumb and her love-hate relationship with her garden . . . her voice on the phone when she called to discuss an article or idea--you always knew you`d talk at least 45 minutes, learn more than you could possibly imagine, and feel slightly dazed and out of breath when you hung up! . . . her nonlinear way of remembering and connecting people and places and conferences and companies and lasers and applications--and attaching a personal story to every one of them . . . her persnickety (but highly accurate) editing style, including a gift for catching potentially fatal technical errors that no one else ever seemed to find . . . her love of mountains and margaritas . . . the way she took time out of her overloaded life to send a card and a Winnie-the-Pooh outfit when my baby was born . . . her amazing mind and wit and heart and her unfailing optimism--even in the face of monthly deadline pressures, a three-state commute, frequent staffing changes, and the annual CLEO issue.

I truly admired and respected her more than any woman I have ever known.

Kathy Kincade

Editor, Medical Laser Report

Heather was extremely interested in spectroscopy using near-infrared detector arrays and stimulated both of us to contribute articles on the subject to her magazine. She had known Greg and me separately, before we formed our present company, and when we did, she seemed as excited as we were, almost like watching a new baby grow. She took an intense interest in our company and our technology, always stopping by our booth at shows to inquire about new developments and products. We developed a symbiotic relationship--Heather knew that she could count on us for a quick article on topics of interest to Laser Focus World readers, and we knew that we always had a sympathetic ear in Heather when we wanted to publish something. In reviewing all the correspondence between us, a warm and collegial tone emerges.

We will miss Heather very much.

Marshall J. Cohen

Gregory H. Olsen

Sensors Unlimited

It is effortless to conjure up the smiling face of this extremely bright and energetic young woman. Though Heather was not a practicing scientist, I was always impressed by her grasp of the field and her uncanny ability to pinpoint the "hot" topics in optics. As an example, in my own field of ultrafast phenomena, Heather could easily discuss the nuances of femtosecond technology--she was quite unique in that respect. Heather will be sorely missed!

Anthony M. Johnson

New Jersey Institute of Technology

Several years ago, around this time of the year, four or five of us editors were scheduled to have dinner together just before Photonics West (although it might have been called O-E Lase then). We were at a very nice restaurant with linen tablecloths and napkins, mostly populated by business people from the show and by theater-goers. Heather came in, slightly breathless, with Dane in tow. He must have been about three and the only child in the restaurant. They had just flown in from the East Coast and a sitter wasn`t available, so Heather brought Dane to dinner. And there was Heather, with far more energy than I could ever muster, giving about 80% of her attention to Dane (who was fidgety) and another 80% to us--talking about the industry, about the articles that were due, what she expected to be at the show, and so on. She kept this up through dinner, dessert, and coffee, even though her son was behaving appropriately for his age. I was both impressed and amused, qualities that characterized my feelings for her throughout our three-year professional association. I miss her now and will continue to miss her.

Diana Zankowsky

Contributing Editor

Laser Focus World

A couple of years ago, at a CLEO party thrown by Laser Focus World at Camden Yards, in Baltimore, Heather made it a point to bring her young son, Dane, over and formally introduce us (he must have been about three years old at the time). I can still see the pride and love on her face, as she made the introduction. She later told me that she`d been taking Dane to trade shows since infancy, as she didn`t want to be separated from him. She was able to devote herself to two such different areas of her life, motherhood and career, with complete dedication and love, and without compromising either. It is a rare gift.

Nancy Fernandes

The Promotion Source

I`m sure I speak for a lot of people in this industry when I say how much Heather will be missed. It`s not just that she was respected as a knowledgeable and very involved editor. We all really liked Heather because she brought a bright and cheery attitude and human perspective to the often abstract world of lasers and electro-optics.

But for me personally, I will always remember Heather as a wonderful mother to her son, Dane. I believe she would have listed this as her greatest achievement in life. Anyone who has spent time with them together couldn`t fail to notice how much love she gave Dane and how happily he thrived on it. We`ve all lost a valued friend and colleague, but he has suffered an unimaginable loss--a truly great mom.

Rest in peace, Heather. I`ll miss you.

Marcus Noble

Technical Marketing Services

In the seven years since Marcus and I started our PR business, I came to know Heather well. She was supportive to us from the beginning, introducing us to potential clients and allowing us to run many articles in her magazine. I owe her a debt for these things that I will now never be able to repay directly.

But, when I think back about Heather, the things that stand out most are not discussions about lasers or electro-optics; rather, her favorite topic was her son, Dane. He is three years older than my son, so Heather often gave me advice as a more experienced parent. And, of course, she was always ready to proudly relate Dane`s most recent accomplishment.

While lasers were the focus of her career, Dane was clearly the focus of her heart. That`s how I`ll remember Heather.

David Kuntz

Technical Marketing Services

Loving mother, dedicated journalist, brilliant chef, skilled gardener, devoted outdoor person/environmentalist, and loyal caring friend. If the inhabitants of our world possess even a few of the admirable qualities that described Heather`s whole being . . . wouldn`t it be a better place we live in!

Michael and Susan Cummings

Plainfield, NJ


All words lack the tribute worthy enough, or the song felt deeply enough, to match this loss--our dark, dark loss. Our hope is asking or praying while in this Life that the shining brightness Heather always freely gave us remain in us and that she reflect her whole spirit onto each of us and into all of us.

Ross Payne

Coherent Inc.

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"While lasers were the focus of her career, Dane was clearly the focus of her heart."

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"Anyone who has spent time with them together couldn`t fail to notice how much love Heather gave Dane and how happily he thrived on it."

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