DANIEL ZWERDLING, NPR HOST: It seems like the whole country's been watching Mark McGwire hitting balls out of baseball fields. Almost nobody noticed Jose Fernandez Partegas (ph) doing his work, although you could argue it was more important.Partegas spent the last years of his life virtually living at the University of Miami library. From 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. every day, volunteering his time to do arcane hurricane research for the Federal National Hurricane Center.Colleagues say his findings could help them predict current storms.When Partegas died one year ago, no family stepped forward to claim him. His remains were destined to be buried in a paupers' cemetery. So this past week, scientist Peter Black and colleagues took Partegas's ashes up in a plane and flew them right into the eye of a hurricane.Black remembers Partegas in life.PETER BLACK, SCIENTIST: You would think of him, just to look at him, as kind of an absent-minded professor type of person, because he -- he was short in stature, hunched over somewhat. He always wore a tattered suit and tie, or overcoat...ZWERDLING: Unruly hair, probably.BLACK: His hair was very shaggy, yes, looked like Albert Einstein.LAUGHTERMy impression of Albert Einstein.ZWERDLING: I read that he was not actually on the staff of your hurricane research center.BLACK: No.ZWERDLING: So how was it -- how was he supporting himself?LAUGHTERBLACK: Well, that's -- that's part of the reason that he was virtually a pauper, because he had worked for the University of Miami, for -- for a professor in the Atmospheric Sciences department, for quite a number of years, so, he did have a small pension from the University of Miami, and I -- I guess that's what he was able to survive on. It was -- it was very little, and plus, I think a lot of the students that he befriended, at the university, and -- and some of the library staff, they would -- they would buy him lunch or buy him dinner and help -- help him get through day-by-day like that.A number of people, like myself, for instance, had befriended him, and we considered him a very close friend.ZWERDLING: So you and your colleagues decided to give him the burial you thought he would have cherished.BLACK: Exactly.ZWERDLING: Describe the scene in the airplane.BLACK: OK, well, we were doing our research pattern in Hurricane Danielle, and each time we'd go through a heavy rain band, the plane would shake and bounce a little more, then it would quiet down a little bit. But as we passed through the eye-wall, the eye of the storm was -- was quite calm, the winds dropped close to zero from about 100 miles per hour. We all gathered at the back of the airplane near our drops-on chute -- that's a tube in the airplane that we can open from the inside -- and we just gathered around the drops-on chute, I said a few words, had a moment of silence, and put Jose's ashes, which was wrapped in a -- a plain-cloth sheet, into a -- into the tube, and they were just scattered to the wind.ZWERDLING: What did you say? Would you read a little bit of it?BLACK: Sure."We're gathered here at 10 P.M. Eastern daylight time on the 31st of August, 1998 for a brief ceremony to honor the memory of Jose Fernandez Partegas, and to scatter his ashes into the eye of Hurricane Danielle, at 28.0 North, 74.2 West, thus returning Jose to the hurricanes he loved and which formed his life's work."And it was just that simple.ZWERDLING: Well, thanks very much for speaking with us about him. And I -- and I guess you'll never look at a hurricane quite the same way again.LAUGHTERBLACK: That's for sure. I'll know that I've always got a friend out there.ZWERDLING: Peter Black is research meteorologist for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. He's been speaking to us from Virginia Keys, Florida.
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