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Charlotte R. Benton, pioneering meteorologist who trained forecasters during World War II, dies

Charlotte Benton was an active member of the Johns Hopkins University community.
Charlotte Benton was an active member of the Johns Hopkins University community.

Charlotte R. Benton, a pioneering meteorologist who trained military forecasters during World War II and after moving to Baltimore became active in the Johns Hopkins University community, died Nov. 30 in her sleep at her Roland Park Place home. She was 97.

“Charlotte was smart and very interested in all kind of things,” said former Assistant U.S. Attorney for Maryland Russell “Tim” Baker. “She also had strong opinions on matters and wasn’t hesitant at expressing them, and she liked taking courses in art and classical music.”

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The former Charlotte Russ, daughter of Carl Russ, a machinist, and his wife, Helen Groethus Russ, was born and raised in Rock Island, Illinois, the third of four children.

“From an early age, she quietly challenged prevailing gender and class expectations,” according to a biographical profile submitted by her family. “She excelled at science and math, played the violin, and taught herself tennis out of a book.”

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After attending Augustana College in Rock Island for two years, she enrolled at the University of Chicago, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in meteorology, and where she was one of only three women who completed its Institute of Meteorology forecasting course in 1944, graduating alongside 309 male Air Force cadets and Naval ensigns.

Ms. Benton later became an instructor in the program at the university, training military weather forecasters who were sent to the European and Pacific theaters of operations.

The University of Chicago was home to the Chicago School established by the prominent Norwegian meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby, a “prominent advocate for the new academic discipline in the United States,” said a daughter, Dr. Lauren Benton of New Haven, Connecticut.

”The university was a center of groundbreaking research in meteorology throughout the Second World War. She worked with other meteorologists gathering data from weather stations around the Chicago area. At that time, before satellites, forecasters relied on field observations and data from weather balloons,” she said.

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While at the university, Ms. Benton met and fell in love with Dr. George Benton, also a meteorologist, whom she married in 1945. The couple moved to Baltimore in 1948 when Dr. Benton joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University, where he taught meteorology and later became dean of arts and sciences and vice president of the Homewood division.

Even though Ms. Benton became a homemaker and raised the couple’s four children at homes in Cedarcroft and Mount Washington, she remained in the field of meteorology and traveled with her husband, who was president of the World Meteorological Organization and served as the associate director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, and headed a U.S. science delegation to the Soviet Union and China.

She traveled to China several times as part of a scientific exchanges that her husband had organized and during a six-month stay in Beijing and Nanjing in 1983 taught English to Chinese meteorologists. She also regularly attended meetings of the American Meteorological Association with her husband.

Ms. Benton was an active member of the Hopkins community, involved with the Friends of the Johns Hopkins University Library and serving for one year as the organization’s president. She was a docent at Homewood House and the Evergreen Museum and Library. She also enjoyed attending academic lectures at the university and graduation ceremonies.

After her husband died in 1999, Ms. Benton moved from her home in Tuscany-Canterbury where she had lived for two decades to Roland Park Place. She continued to travel and until recently visited one favorite city in Europe each year.

“She was adventurous — she went paragliding at the age of 87 in the Cayman Islands — and athletic,” according to the biographical profile. “Outgoing and sociable, she cultivated a personal style and was always ready for a party.”

“Charlotte was a very caring person and a dear friend of my mother who was 10 years older than she,” Mr. Baker said. “When my mother went into the health care center at Roland Park Place, she visited her every day, brought her gifts and encouraged her. She was totally supportive of her.”

Ms. Benton was recalled as a “gifted conversationalist, avid museumgoer, scientist, dedicated student of languages,” who over the years belonged to several groups in which she could stay au courant with her French, Italian and Chinese. She was an active member of three book clubs simultaneously, family members said.

She also was an active member of the Iliad, a gourmet dinner group.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, plans for a memorial gathering are incomplete.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, Jeffrey Benton of Boulder, Colorado; two other daughters, Barbara Benton Hill of Guilford and Sandra Benton Solomon of Nashville, Tennessee; a brother, Jerald Russ of San Clemente, California; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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