Fascinating Folks

by Dave Cunningham, Guest Writer

Persons of Interest: Fascinating Folks ‘Hiding’ in Port Ludlow

Arecebo Telescope

In the James Bond movie, GoldenEye, a brutal fight between Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and the bad guy takes place on the Arecibo radio telescope, held up by cables 500 feet above a huge spherical dish below.

Longtime Port Ludlow resident Tony Durham designed and engineered that radio telescope—not for a movie set, but for the purpose of capturing radio signals from space, tracking missiles and asteroids that might threaten our planet, and, yes, even possible communication from alien civilizations. That’s why the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster as an astronomer who connects with extraterrestrial beings, was also filmed at the Arecibo facility in Puerto Rico.

Durham had government secret clearance when he was working on antennas for NASA and other organizations, but he says he didn’t even know his antennas at Arecibo—which became operational in 1963—were used to search for signals from alien civilizations.

“I would be the last to know if they were,” Durham said. “But my antenna design eventually went out to all the NASA tracking stations. I had secret clearance, but NASA’s stuff really wasn’t all that secret. Occasionally they asked me to work on some Air Force projects.”

Durham and his wife, Cynthia, were born in England and came to the U.S. in the late 1950’s because, in his own words, “I wanted to work here for three years, get wealthy, then go back home to the U.K. I thought there were better opportunities here for electrical engineers. I went for a job interview, and I was stunned when they offered me more money than I asked for.”

The Durhams stayed and raised their family on the U.S. East Coast, then retired in Port Ludlow in 1994.

“We came out here because I had a British friend who married a guy in Seattle, they just loved the area, and we were both getting ready to retire,” Cynthia said. “And they said, ‘You’ve got to come out and look at this place called Port Ludlow. It’s pretty, it’s on the water, there’s a golf course, and we really liked it.’ Next thing you know, we bought this house, and we told our kids (adults by then) that we’re going to retire to Port Ludlow. And the kids said, ‘Where’s that? We can’t even find it on the map.’”

Cynthia also had a brush with fame because she was raised in Liverpool and lived near four lads who grew up to become The Beatles. She says she didn’t know them because she’s 10 years older than John, Paul, George, and Ringo were, and they weren’t even Beatles yet.

Tony’s Arecibo project became worldwide news on December 1, 2020, when the cables holding up the radio telescope he designed snapped, and the entire rig fell and crashed into the radar dish below. It might be considered somewhat miraculous that it lasted as long as it did, providing 57 years of radio signal data to astronomers, military, SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and other government agencies.