It is a sad text that I have to write today. Our colleague Olivier Chesneau passed away May 17. Olivier, born 1972, had been battling with cancer for several years. He is survived by his wife and two children.
He was well known to many of us, equally for his technical skills, his science, and his personality. Last year, when a happy outcome still seemed likely and Olivier returned to observing trips and attending conferences, we felt great relief, only to be shocked the more by learning that he finally has lost his fight.
Olivier worked on many aspects of astronomy, active B stars far from being the only topic. His interest ranged from star and planet formation through planetary nebulae, Be and B[e] stars, supergiants, Wolf Rayet stars and LBVs, to interacting binaries and novae and supernovae. And that is still an incomplete list. Only recently one of his results, the common envelope binary nature of the yellow hypergiant HR5171A, found world-wide public attention in the media, and less than a month ago his paper on interferomtetric results on the wind of Rigel was accepted by A&A.
Most of his work he did with interferometric techniques. In his thesis work, supervised by Tony Moffat and Farrokh Vakili, he explored the challenging concept of Spectropolarimetric Interferometry. I personally became acquainted with Olivier when he was in Heidelberg at the Max Planck Institut für Astronomie some years later, working on MIDI, the mid-infrared interferometric instrument now at the VLT-Interferometer. His didactic abilities to explain the (then, to me, at least) exotic concept of interferometry were striking, and Olivier was a frequently invited tutor and lecturer to schools and introductory talks on the technique. His skills certainly had a positive on impact on me; I shortly after applied to ESO as VLTI Operations Astronomer and became instrument scientist of MIDI a few years later.
From Heidelberg Olivier returned to France, to the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, where he stayed and dedicated his work to his science and to services to the community, including the coordination of French guaranteed time requests at the VLTI and working on the successor instrument of MIDI currently being built, named MATISSE. He was actively involved in observations with the VEGA instrument at the CHARA Array, where he helped lead observations of Nova Delphini 2013. Even after receiving the bad news, only a few weeks ago, Olivier tried to continue working and inspired his collaborators with his wish for "people to laugh, smile and be happy".
Thomas Rivinius, on behalf of the SOC of the IAU Working Group on Active B Stars
It is always sad when someone loses their life so prematurely, but when that someone is as gentle and supportive as Olivier Chesneau, it feels even worse. There is clearly no fairness in a world where the purest and the best of us get dealt such a harsh and undeserved blow. My thoughts are with his family.
This is with a great sadness that I write these few lines to say goodbye to Olivier.It was always a great pleasure to meet him in conferences. He was so enthusiastic for astronomy and such a nice person, interested in so many topics! He had in his eyes the curiosity of the child, the joy of the discoverer and the humility of the one who knows that nature can be quite tricky. Although, I met him only a few times and for short durations, he impressed me by his optimistic and always very joyful and friendly attitude. The short moments that we shared remain as wonderful presents of life. My thoughts now go to his family in this difficult and so sad moment. Olivier, you were a splendid person and an excellent astronomer! If angels do exist, I am sure you will succeed in making them to love the stars!
I heard the depressing news about Olivier from Denis Mourard yesterday. Olivier was a very kind and very modest person, with a deep insight into spectro-interferometry, especially for binary and multiple systems. In recent years, he closely collaborated with my PhD student Jana Nemravová, who visited him in Nice. He actually acted as her adviser and helped her to understand spectro-interferometric reductions. We all here at the Astronomical Institute of the Charles University in Prague will miss him enormously and express our very sincere condolences to his family.
To Oliver's family and close friends, I am deeply saddened to hear of this tragic news. Oliver had an amazing energy for science and I enjoyed his enthusiasm when his discussed a scientific question or a problem. Most of all, I will remember his genuine passion for life and the smile he always wore.
My sincere condolences,
My colleagues and I in India deeply regret the passing away of Olivier. We were first contacted by him after the 2006 outburst of recurrent nova RS Ophiuchi and that started a collaboration that continued until his sad untimely demise. We worked on the interferometric studies of novae, a nascent field of research that held great promise and excitement. Our study of the dust forming nova V1280 Sco in 2008 was a great success and even earned a ESO press release. I invited him, around this time to visit India. It was around October-November, a time of celebration in India because it is the season of Diwali or the Festival of Lights, and he was most enthusiastic about seeing it (great enthusiasm, dynamism, warmth and humility were some of his traits). But the travel funds did not come through. I got the first scent of trouble when the Editor of the Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India invited him to write a review article in a compendium dedicated solely to novae research. This was possibly in late 2011 or early 2012. He co-opted me as a co-author for this review but I was puzzled by his eagerness to get the article started even though the deadline was almost a year away (the article was published in September 2012 in BASI, 40). It was then that I came to first know that he had been diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to get his pending assignments finished. This news was a sad blow. I was in touch with him constantly after that, following the treatment he was being given and there were moments of great hope that things would eventually become alright.
But the progress and deterioration went in cycles of ups and downs, as he told it to me. Optimism today, quiet despair tomorrow. When Nova Del 2013 erupted in July-August 2013, a bright and hence suitable target for the VLTI, Olivier was very slow to reply to my request to observe it. He generally responded to emails within hours and it was very unusual for him to be silent for days; this appeared as a very ominous sign. I think the battle was lost around this stage, though I came to know from his French colleagues, closer to him, that he remained optimistic of his chances till almost the very end. It was as if he echoing those lines of Dylan Thomas "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light".
When the final news came it was quite heart-rending. Up to a few days before that, he was still valiantly organizing the writing of papers from his hospital bed. On 14th May some of us received this final message " Dear all, I am no longer able to work". He passed away on the 17th May. He touched the lives of many and will be remembered with warmth and affection by Ashok, Ramkrishna Das, Vishal Joshi - my colleagues here in India – and by myself. In these inconsolable moments, we convey our deepest condolences to his family.
Dipankar P.K. Banerjee