I was born in 1914 in Amsterdam. I grew up there, filling my teenage years with activities as an amateur astronomer. I later studied at Leiden University and volunteered at Leiden Observatory. From 1938 to 1945, I was assistant at the Kapteyn Institute in Groningen, including during the war years 1940 1945, returning to Leiden in October 1945. After prolonged stays at Yerkes Observatory in 1947 1948 and 1952, and participation in Leiden's astrometric Kenya expedition in 1949 1950, I became associate professor at Yerkes Observatory in the fall of 1953. In 1957, I returned to the Kapteyn Institute and soon became involved in the creation of ESO, of which I became scientific director in 1968 and director general from 1970 to 1974. In 1975, I joined Leiden Observatory again, staying until my retirement in 1981, and since then I have enjoyed the hospitality of the Kapteyn Institute. I was president of the IAU from 1976 to 1979. From 1982 to 1989, I was chairman of the Scientific Programs Selection Committee for the European Space Agency's satellite, Hipparcos. My principal research interests have been in galactic structure and star formation, with emphasis on stellar associations. In addition to my astronomical interests, I have researched and published on Dutch village history.