George C. Munro, 88, whittler, staff mathematician at APL


George Colin Munro, a retired mathematician who whittled away the hours carving elaborate chains and making furniture and clocks, died of pneumonia Oct. 2 at Lorien Nursing Home in Columbia. He was 88.

A resident of Fulton in Howard County, Dr. Munro retired in 1972 from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where he had been principal professional staff mathematician since 1944.

During his 28-year career at the laboratory,he performed dynamic and flight test analysis on the Talos and Terrier missile systems and satellites.

His research and design of the yo-yo despin system eliminated satellite spinning after launch and allowed for continuous and reliable communication between Earth and satellites. He was awarded a patent for his work developing a fixed radar antenna.

Earlier, he taught at Kansas State University, the University of Buffalo, Jordan College and Wentworth Military Academy.

"He was quite a gifted man," said Robert C. Rand, Dr. Munro's neighbor in Fulton and a colleague at Applied Physics Laboratory.

"However, it was his ability to take a single piece of wood and whittle a chain with a knot that always amazed me. I'm a mathematician and still have trouble figuring out how he did it."

Dr. Munro's interest in whittling was stimulated after settling into his 19th-century home in Fulton and finding a dying row of pear trees, which he had removed and stored for firewood.

"I happened to see a book on whittling that said pear wood was the best whittling wood there was," he said in a 1979 interview in The Sun.

After carving an elephant and a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, he returned to the complex geometric forms that fascinated him.

One of his more notable efforts was a 24-link endless chain with a knot in it that took nearly 200 hours to carve.

Whittling was not without its peril. One false whittle and the entire effort could collapse in ruin.

"I always whittled outside," Dr. Munro told The Sun. "I'd go out in the back yard on a hot afternoon and sit under a tree with my pipe, a bottle of beer, a ball game on the radio and whittle."

Dr. Munro described his carving as a "biodegradable hobby."

He also made clocks and furniture and chessboards out of ebony and tulip woods and finished in 10 coats of varnish.

A chessboard is 32 black and 32 white squares. His major challenge was to cut strips of wood of the same width so that the corners of the squares would match.

Once finished with the boards, he would carve the chess pieces from the same woods.

He also polished and cut Montana agate, collected New Orleans jazz recordings and photographed birds, including the rare Lincoln sparrow that landed on his windowsill one day.

Active in Scouting, he was a King Scout, the highest rank in Canadian scouting.

He was born and raised in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, was a 1927 graduate of Acadia University and earned his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1930.

In 1937, he married Rosamond Burgess, who survives.

No services will be held.

Other survivors include a son, David Munro of Alburtis, Pa.; and two grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Wilderness Society, 900 17th Street, N.W., Washington 20006-2596; or to the National Parks and Conservation Association, 1776 Massachusetts Ave., Washington 20036.

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