Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 29
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
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Anchor House Cyclist Who Died During Ride Is Fondly Remembered

Douglas McCune, 55, of Princeton was fatally injured in a cycling accident on July 16 in Clinton Township. He was riding on the final day of the annual weeklong “Ride for Runaways” in support of Anchor House in Trenton.

Mr. McCune, an internationally renowned scientist and software engineer at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), struck the rear of a 2011 SUV on Payne Road eastbound of Route 31. The driver was waiting to make a left turn into a service station. According to the Hunterdon County Medical Examiner’s Office, Mr. McCune died of blunt force trauma due to the impact of the accidental crash. “It appears that he failed to see the stopped vehicle,” said John Kuczynski, the Chief of Detectives.

Mr. McCune’s friends and colleagues from Anchor House knew him as a cyclist who put a priority on safety. “I’ve ridden thousands of miles with Doug McCune, who was also a bike commuter, and he was always among the safest riders I knew,” said fellow rider Tim Quinn. “He would never have taken any risk that would have put himself or anyone else into any kind of danger.”

Born in Ithaca N.Y., Mr. McCune started school at the Nassau Street School, in Princeton, later moving to Lexington, Mass. He graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Yale University in 1978, the same year he was hired as a computational scientist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, where he was working at the time of his death. He received a master’s in computer science from Drexel University in 1995.

He was the main author and creator of TRANSP, an integrated software package for tokamak fusion plasma simulations, which has been used to analyze and validate the results of tokamak experiments around the world. He is coauthor of dozens of conference papers and journal articles, primarily in the field of experimental plasma physics and controlled fusion.

In 2001, he was named PPPL’s Distinguished Engineering Fellow, honored for his seminal contributions to computational plasma physics, particularly in the area of high-level data analysis in fusion experiments, and for his more recent work in establishing and leading the PPPL Computational Plasma Physics Group, which has been vital to the development of modern computational physics for both PPPL and the Fusion Energy Science community.

Princeton Professor Rob Goldston, past director of PPPL and a colleague of Mr. McCune for over 30 years, described his group as “developing and maintaining a major system of computer codes that is used by fusion scientists around the world to make sense of their experimental data. Through Doug’s Herculean efforts, many groups have easy access to the same state-of-the-art code. As a result, Doug’s code has functioned as an international ‘gold standard,’ making it possible for scientists to collaborate across continents, thereby advancing together the development of fusion, a safe, clean, and unlimited energy source.”

Professor Goldston recalled that “Doug always had a way of producing spectacular scientific results in a sort of an aw-shucks kind of a way. I will miss his scientific creativity, but most of all I will miss his warm-hearted chuckle and his clear set of values that drove everything he did. It is characteristic of Doug that he worked so hard to help scientists from so many nations and cultures work together as a community. Doug had a brilliant, clear mind, but above all he had an immense heart.”

Congressman Rush Holt (D-12) remembered Mr. McCune as a good friend who was instrumental in his political campaign. “When I first began running for office, Doug was one of the first people who stepped up to help me,” Mr. Holt recalled. “We spent a lot of time sitting around our dining room table, stuffing envelopes. We drove all over Central New Jersey together. Doug was a fine scientist and everybody respected his work. But what I remember most about him is that he was a kind, generous, compassionate soul.”

Mr. McCune’s intelligence and warmth also were evoked by long-time friend and colleague John Schivell. “He was kind and soft-spoken, but keenly intelligent and perceptive. He would be the quieter one in conversation, but when he spoke, it was worth heeding. Doug often joined our running group when he was not biking; after the rest of us had chatted about some political or social topic, Doug would speak up with comments a little wiser and more perceptive than ours. He was generally quieter than the rest of us, but he thought deeply.”

Mr. McCune’s humility also extended to the impact he had on the annual Anchor House fundraiser, to which to he devoted himself eagerly and earnestly each year. Mr. Quinn recalled that even the other participants were unaware of how much money he raised each year from sponsors who supported his ride. “He was consistently one of the top fundraisers over the 16 rides that he participated in. His proficiency in the use of the internet early on in its development enabled Doug not only to elicit donations from far and wide but also to spread the word about Anchor House to scientists around the world.”

The mission of Anchor House, a multi-service agency for runaway, homeless, abused, and at-risk youth and their families, is to provide comprehensive assistance to vulnerable young people ranging in age from newborns to 21. “Each year, as the strenuous ride approached,” said Mr. Quinn, “Doug would wrestle with whether he should participate. But in the end, he always felt a moral obligation to do the ride, motivated as he was by the kids who were helped by the organization and aware of how much money he brought in each year to support them.”

Mr. Quinn also noted that Mr. McCune was always a good sport, even on the toughest days of the ride. “He never once complained during the whole grueling week — about anything. In addition to being the smartest man I ever met, he displayed a remarkable emotional intelligence. He spent his whole life contributing to the greater good.”

Douglas McCune was predeceased by his father, Dr. James E. McCune and his sister Jamie McCune Bariteau. He is survived by his beloved wife Susan Jefferies, his mother Mary Ellen Turner, stepfather W. Bard Turner, his stepmother Ursula McCune, his half-brothers Christopher and Robin McCune, a nephew Benjamin Bariteau, and niece Casey Bariteau. He is also survived by his brother-in-law Paul Bariteau and his wife Carolan and other relatives.

Services are private, but a memorial service honoring his life will be held at a time and place to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to Anchor House Ride for Runaways securely at www.anchorhouseride.org/Donate.aspx or sent to Anchor House Ride for Runaways, 482 Centre Street, Trenton, NJ 08611.

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