Robert Fredric Rowntree

In Memoriam: Robert Fredric Rowntree

October 17, 2008


Robert Fredric Rowntree, an OSA Fellow Emeritus and a member of the Society since 1956, died peacefully of old age at SunnyBrook Assisted Living in Fairfield, IA on Friday, October 17th, 2008 He was 78 years old.

Rowntree was born in Columbus, Ohio, on February 8, 1930. He was the only child of Richardson Henry Rowntree and Marjorie Priscella Davidson, both deceased. He married Esther Helen Rowntree on January 20, 1956, and they were together until his death.

He graduated from high school in the Philippines, where his father served on the Philippines Reparations Commission, and then traveled alone via cargo ship from Manila, with adventures in Indonesia and India, then through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, to attend Miami University (Ohio), where he completed a double major in mathematics and physics. His education continued with a Masters degree in public administration from Syracuse University, and a Doctorate in physics from Ohio State University, where he continued post doctoral research until May of 1963. He was an active member of the US Army for 2 years during the Korean War.

He worked for 27 years at the country’s largest weapons research laboratory at China Lake in the upper Mojave Desert in California. Bob considered his principal career skill as “understanding complex technology and environments, elucidating the critical features in their futures, and communicating findings and suggestions to diverse constituencies.” He was always recognizable at work as “the one wearing the bow tie” and instituted ‘Purple Shirt Friday’ at Michelson Laboratories. He once described his job as, “Helping the rocket scientists with stuff they didn’t understand, like Washington DC, and what one another were doing.” When he retired on May 3, 1989, he received the prestigious Navy Meritorious Civilian Service award, one of the highest honorary awards the Navy can confer on a civilian employee.

At home, he was able to fix anything from small appliances to cars and passed his ‘can-do’ attitude along to his sons. He always spent free time with his family, whether quiet days at home, weekend 4-wheeling in the desert, visiting museums, spending the day at the horse races, or extensive international trips. His immensely entertaining slide presentation of New Zealand will be remembered by anyone who was lucky enough to see it. He had a dry and cynical wit and an extremely active sense of humor, and this made him fun to banter with.

After retiring, Bob and Esther moved to San Luis Obispo (SLO), CA where Bob volunteered extensively, among other activities, doing repairs on the SLO County General Hospital (the maintenance department being overwhelmed caring for the aging facility), was a member of the SLO County Commission on Aging, and wrote and published newsletters for several local senior organizations. He was instrumental in organizing the Society for Counter Ordnance Technology, a national group working to apply technology to the worldwide problem of clearing landmines, and was assistant organizer of the biannual international symposia for this group.

He is survived by his wife, Esther, residing in Fairfield, IA; their two sons, Walter (Pocatello, ID) and Raymond (Portland, OR); and a granddaughter, Lindsey (Portland, OR).

His remains were cremated. The family held a small, private service.

Bob Rowntree was a good and devoted father and husband.

This obituary was contributed by Walter Rowntree.