Tribute to: Frank Barretto

26th of April 1925 to 22nd of September 2022.

A Tribute and Remembrance by Phil Barnard.

Frank Barretto with Sir Patrick Moore
Frank Barretto with Sir Patrick Moore

We were saddened to learn the news, which came somewhat belatedly, that Frank Barretto, who was a well-remembered Life member of Wolverhampton Astronomical Society, had passed away on 22 September 2022.

I had spoken to Frank on the telephone in October 2020, because at the time the Society didn’t have an email contact address for him. He was 95 years of age, but even then he said he would love to give us another talk – providing he had time to complete the necessary research!

The archive of Society meetings is not complete, but for a period of about thirty years from 1980, Frank is recorded as giving at least 14 talks to the Society. His topics included a very wide range of subject matter, from deep space to the structure and evolution of the Solar System, the Moon, planetary craters, the Kuiper Belt, comets, Earth weather and events in the history of astronomy. His talks were memorably detailed and usually required two, or even three parts, the final part being completed the following year. Two of his talks form part of the Society’s video library. He also contributed articles to the Society magazine Lyra, where you can also find both Frank’s appreciative review of someone else’s talk as well as similar reviews of Frank’s talks.

Frank had been unable to attend Society meetings in person for a number of years but memories of his talks live on. Those talks really were detailed lectures, and it was always clear that he had spent a great deal of time researching his material, something his daughter Ruth records in the memories of her father. He was custodian of the Society’s antique (circa 1900) 9-inch reflector for a number of years. He had hoped to use it himself but a personal injury meant that he was unable to operate such a large and heavy instrument. Since then no one else has volunteered.

English wasn’t Frank’s first language, but nonetheless he surmounted that difficulty and always gave clear descriptions of difficult topics. An abiding memory I have of Frank’s talks is his undoubted ‘awe of the heavens’, the wonder and immensity of all that he beheld. I’m sure his religious convictions were at the heart of his personal philosophy, although he didn’t make that part of his arguments. To convey that immensity, he would express it in numbers, but parsecs or light years were insufficient for his purpose. So he would choose something more familiar from everyday experience such as kilometres, and once demonstrated that with a written sheet of paper showing the number one followed by at least 20 zeros. That produced a ‘Wow!’ from the audience, which is what I’m sure Frank was hoping for.

Frank was fortunate enough to be one of a number of people who were given the honour of being personally invited to spend the day with Sir Patrick Moore at his house ‘Farthings’ in Selsey, where the above photograph was taken.

Frank will be very fondly remembered by all who knew him. His family’s obituary ends with the words “There will only be one Frank Barretto.” I can absolutely agree with that.

Frank is survived by his wife Aileen, daughters Ruth and Sarah and son-in-law Michael, grandchildren Emma, Elena, Daniel and Sophie and great grandchildren Cara and Charlie. On behalf of the Society, I would like to extend our sincere condolences to Frank’s family.