Ted Sherburne – in memory

Edward ‘Ted’ Sherburne, a pioneer in television and promotion of public understanding of science, died November 22, 2010 at the Southminster Retirement Community in Charlotte, NC of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was ninety-one years old.

Born in Washington, DC, October 1, 1919, the only child of Colonel and Bess Brashear Sherburne, Ted was a child of the army. Early years were spent in Fort Benning, Ga. where many to-be-famous members of the West Point 1915 class of stars were stationed, including Eisenhower and Bradley. His earliest memory was of General Marshall, mounted on a large horse, chatting with his parents as they weeded their garden. Subsequent childhood homes were in the Philippines, China, and Puerto Rico. He graduated from Kent School in Kent, Conn. in 1937 and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1941.

Commissioned upon graduation as 2nd Lt. in the Corps of Engineers in intelligence, US Army, he served in Washington, DC, Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Morocco, Algeria, and Sicily with stations in London and Paris. He was Head Officer in the European Theater for Technical Intelligence in 1944, and was discharged as Major in 1945.

From then until retirement as President of Science Service in 1991, Ted was on the cutting edge of leadership in innovation and program development to communicate science to the public. At the Naval Special Devices Center in 1946 he had led a project to test whether the new medium of television could be used in instruction. In 1949 he was producer for Manhattan Spotlight, one of New York City’s earliest shows.

In 1955, when WGBH-TV, Boston went on air, Ted was program manager, framing the first schedule for the station, and influencing national standards of educational TV. Numerous awards were made to WGBH in news and science coverage, including a Sylvania award for Discovery, a science program hosted by his future wife. He was also a Program Manager for the Public Broadcasting Service, and coordinated an educational TV network for the University of California campuses.

In 1959 his life career expanded when he was appointed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC to head a new effort in increasing Public Understanding of Science; he met the challenge with organization of Science Seminars for Congressmen and their staffs, managing the AAAS Westinghouse Science Writing Awards, the Holiday Science Lectures for high school students, and a host of efforts to inform the public about science through television.

His influence grew when in 1966 he became President of Science Service, (now Society for Science and the Public) and became publisher of Science News, director of the Westinghouse Talent Services for Young Scientists, (now Intel Talent Search). Many winners have later received Nobel awards. Science Service also managed International Science Fairs and trained numerous science writers.

Ted was a major spokesman in the US and internationally calling attention to the imperative for the public to understand science, and for young people to begin early to practice hands on science, not just read and learn its laws by rote. He was a visionary and believed the media stream was not sufficient to communicate to all the public the range of rapid change in science, technology and engineering.

He said in 1961, speaking to an Academy of Science, ‘Yet men of learning must admit, except for the book, the symbol of our culture, there is no genuinely respectable tradition of popularization for the masses. And even the scholarly tradition is often a little embarrassed with how to deal with a ‘popularizer’ who rises up out of its midst.’

Ted thus foretold the major role today’s Web and universe of popularizing media tools would have in communication of information. At the end of his life he was full of wonder for the popularizers that rose up in our midst, but believed we were learning in too small bits to know the wonder and in depth knowledge science requires.

He was the author of numerous papers and recognized for his contributions most recently in May, 2000 when Science Service received the Allan T. Waterman Award for communication in science. He was a member of the Cosmos Club, the Science Writers Association, and the Press Club.

Ted is survived by his wife, the former Mary Lela Grimes Sparks, Charlotte, NC, one son, Edward Gill Sherburne, III, and his wife, Marita, Potomac MD; and nephews and nieces: Martha, and husband, Richard Arcilesi; Anita Uber; Geraldine and husband Barry Emmert all of Charlotte NC and Michael Sparks and wife Kay, Fairview, NC; and ten grandnieces and nephews. Ted is also survived by three self-adopted daughters whom he mentored and cherished: Dr. Docia Hickey, Charlotte, NC; Charlotte Matthews Connetti, Charlottesville, VA, and Christina Fernandez Montes of Miami, FL.

In lieu of floral gifts Ted, a former Mayor of Southminster, would have appreciated remembrances to the Southminster Foundation. The family extends the deepest of thanks to the Southminster Health Center for the care Ted received by skilled and loving caregivers and managers.


  1. John K. Mackenzie on July 20, 2014 at 11:51 am

    I once knew Ted Sherburne quite well and am sorry to learn of his death. I once worked for him in an office here in NYC. I was producing a weekly TV show and Dr. Morris Shamus was one of the our on camera hosts.

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