“Our hope was to keep them here,” she said.
Other beneficiaries of the Meads’ largess include the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center, which offers free daily concerts.
The couple also underwrote the Mead Theatre Lab for experimental plays at the Flashpoint cultural center in downtown Washington and the Mead Lobby at Signature Theatre in Arlington County. Over the years, they supported other local organizations, including the Levine School of Music, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and the Washington Chorus, as well as dozens of individual theatrical productions across the region.
In addition, the Mead Family Foundation, founded in 1989, supports education and crisis prevention efforts for youths. According to the foundation, about $1 million is awarded annually.
The Meads’ contributions to cultural life in Washington are often compared to those of Arlene and Robert Kogod, whose philanthropy has benefited theaters and museums, and Victoria and Roger Sant, who gave millions of dollars to the Smithsonian Institution, the National Symphony Orchestra and other organizations.
Dr. Mead remained a mainstay of local theaters after her husband’s death. The couple had hosted many cast parties at their residence at the Watergate complex, where they moved after retiring from Goddard. In a nod to her previous life as a NASA scientist, the mirrored walls of her bathroom were painted — accurately — to show the planets of the solar system.
Barbara Jaylee Montague was born June 14, 1929, near Clayton, N.C., southeast of Raleigh.
Encouraged by her parents and teachers to pursue higher education, she received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from what is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1951 and a master’s degree in education from Stanford University in 1954.
In 1959, she was working for the State Department in Washington when she was recruited by NASA. At Georgetown University, where she received a doctorate in astronomy in 1970, she studied with the celebrated astronomer Vera Rubin.
She and Gilbert Mead were married in 1968. Dr. Mead worked at Goddard for 33 years as a mathematician and astronomer, retiring in 1992. She was known internationally, said former colleague Milt Halem, for her work on a computerized database of stars and galaxies. It is used by, among others, astronomers seeking to identify new celestial bodies.
Dr. Mead credited Goddard’s amateur employee theater group with sparking her interest in the arts. She joined the troupe, and her roles included Nellie Forbush in the musical “South Pacific” and Vera Charles in the musical “Mame.” Her idol, she once told The Post, was Ethel Merman.
Over the years, Dr. Mead chaired or served on the boards of Arena Stage, Studio Theatre, the Washington Theatre Awards Society, the Carnegie Institution for Science and the National Children’s Museum. She and her husband received numerous honors, included one from The Post for distinguished community service in 1996.
Her first marriage, to Gordon Burley, ended in divorce.
Her stepson Robert Mead died in 2002. Survivors include three stepchildren, Betsy Mead of Silver Spring, Diana Mead of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Stanton W. Mead II of Middletown, Md.; a sister; and five grandchildren.
“When I married Gil,” Dr. Mead once told The Post, “he would say to me, ‘One day, there will be considerably more money.’ But I didn’t want to believe our life would be any different, because wealth has never been one of my concerns. My concern has been having good friends, and wealth can separate you from them. . . . I never wanted money to set me apart. I wanted to be just like everybody else.”