Father and son find time — and space

When you look out at the stars, you’re actually looking back in time.

Almost 40 years ago, Sam Drew, ’68 biology, was teaching at an elementary school in Fairfield County, S.C., when he happened to mention this basic scientific fact to his fourth-grade class. Decades later, one of those former fourth-graders told Drew how this passing thought about time, distance and the speed of light had, in fact, stuck with her for years.

“I hadn’t even remembered saying that, but it makes sense,” Drew says now. “Our place in the universe is something that has always fascinated me.”

The retired educator, whose career culminated in a stint as executive director of the National Dropout Prevention Center, grew up contemplating the cosmos and later shared that interest with his son, John. While the two periodically set up a telescope in the backyard and enjoyed occasional trips to star parties organized by different astronomy clubs, the demands of Sam’s career prevented their full immersion in their mutual hobby.

“Now, we have a little more time,” Sam says. “It’s something John’s interested in, too, so we thought it would be a fun thing to get more involved with, do some bonding and explore a shared interest.”

John Drew, ’05 biology, remembers going out in a field with his father to view Halley’s comet when he was a boy and visiting the old Gibbes Planetarium in Columbia. As an adult, he is as excited as his father by their revived hobby.

 “I’ve had some kind of interest my whole life, but like my father, I haven’t had the chance to fully develop it,” says the younger Drew, now a chiropractor and a father himself. “I took some astronomy classes at USC, but I’ve had so much other stuff going on until recently.”

The two purchased a portable Mead ETX telescope last year and joined the Midlands Astronomy Club with the intent of quite literally broadening their horizons. Taking a closer look at the stars and planets together is also helping build on a Drew family tradition that began when Sam was a boy.

“My interest goes way back,” Sam says. “When I was about 6 years old, my father took us on a trip out to Arizona to visit family, and I recall just being totally amazed at how big the sky was.”

The Lake City, S.C., native even remembers watching his father attempt to build a telescope using a mail order mirror kit purchased from Edmund Scientific. The two spent late nights together at the kitchen table while his father ran parabolic tests on the telescope’s mirror, which he was grinding himself.

“I didn’t understand much of what he was doing, but it was just fascinating to me,” Sam says. “He never finished the full telescope. I don’t know why. But after he died I was going through his stuff and found that mirror wrapped up and still in very good condition, so maybe John and I will do a joint venture of completing that telescope. He was kind of a perfectionist, so I imagine that mirror is perfect.”

Learn more

Visit the Astronomy Center website to learn more about studying the stars at South Carolina. 

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