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About Our Founder & Our Namesake

About Our Founder

The Brashear Association was founded in 1917 by Mrs. Harriet Phillips, wife of Pittsburgh industrialist and conservationist John M. Phillips. Mrs. Phillips served on the Pittsburgh School Board. (Brashear Association’s neighboring Phillips Elementary School bears the family name.) Over the years members of the Phillips family have served on the Brashear Association Board of Directors, including Lee Phillips and Jennifer Jeffers.

About Our Namesake

Pittsburgh’s John Alfred Brashear (1840-1920), a self-taught scientist and astronomer, was a man of many accomplishments and contrasts.

He was a diligent millwright but became world renowned for other skills.

An amateur astronomer with little formal education, he built telescopes and other precision instruments for the world’s greatest observatories – including Pittsburgh’s own. The instruments he designed and built still contribute to man’s knowledge of the vast unknown of outer space. He was honored by the most respected universities and scientific societies and served as chancellor of the Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh) and a director of Carnegie Institute of Technology.

Never a wealthy man, he was nonetheless a trusted friend and valued business associate of some of America’s richest and most influential industrialists.

The world’s great scientific institutions revere him for his contributions to astronomy, physics, astrophotography and aeronautics. Yet his love of people – especially children – earned him his favorite title. Throughout the city people knew him as “Uncle John.”

It is John Brashear – humanitarian – who lives on in the people served by the community houses founded in his honor by The Brashear Association. Today, people in South Pittsburgh communities, where he lived and worked, can access a full spectrum of programs and services for babies to grandparents and community service to community action.

"We have loved the stars too fondly
to be fearful of the night"

Beneath the Keeler Memorial Reflecting Telescope at the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania are entombed the remains of John Brashear and his beloved wife, Phoebe. Perhaps no single individual ever did more to bring the science and wonder of astronomy to his fellow travlers on "this old, round world" than did John Brashear.  His legacy and his charge to make the stars accessible to every man, woman, and child lives on today in the charter of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh. On the plaque which marks the Brashear's crypt within the pier at Allegheny Observatory are words slightly paraphrased from a poem by Sarah Williams. These thirteen words have become the motto of the AAAP and more than any others, capture the spirit of the astronomer within us and our motivation to protect and share the wonders of the nighttime sky.

Below is the original Sarah Williams poem from which the quote is taken.

The Old Astronomer to His Pupil

Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, 'tis original and true,
And the obliquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men's fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles.

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant's fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Sarah Williams
"Best Loved Poems of the American People", Hazel Felleman, ed. Garden City Publishing Co., Garden City NY: 1936, pp. 613-614

Information cited from the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh website.