Cover photo for Robert S. Pritchard's Obituary
Robert S. Pritchard Profile Photo

Robert S. Pritchard

d. August 13, 2023

San Rafael, CA

Robert (Bob) S. Pritchard, 83, passed away on Aug. 13, 2023, in San Rafael, Calif., from complications associated with dementia and longtime health issues, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Bob was the eldest child of Samuel Pritchard and Beatrice (née Bachman) Pritchard. He was raised in Nazareth, Pa., and grew up with siblings Veronica, Gail, Judy, and “baby brother” Sam, with a large extended family in the area.

Bob put himself through Lehigh University by working at the local cement plant during the summers. Upon graduation, he worked in the defense industry in Albuquerque, N.M., for a year before, as he put it, he “wandered across the street to the University of New Mexico and decided to apply for a PhD.” He earned his doctorate in Engineering in 1970.

While at UNM, he met Barbara D. Thompson, then an undergraduate. They married in 1965. Shortly after their daughter Sara joined the family, they moved to Seattle for Bob’s career – driving their VW bus from New Mexico to Washington.

Bob was a world expert on sea ice and its physical and engineering properties, and authored over 120 publications during his career. His primary interest was sea ice behavior. His areas of technical expertise were solid mechanics, applied mathematics, plasticity and numerical analysis. He was Principal Scientist at the Arctic Ice Dynamics Joint Experiment at the University of Washington (1973-78), Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Geo/Solid Mechanics Department at Flow Industries, Inc. (1978-83), and President of IceCasting, Inc. (1983-2014). He was also Department of Oceanography Chair in Arctic Marine Science at the Naval Postgraduate School in 1987-88.

Bob’s research and international collaborations took him to many parts of the Arctic, including Alaska, Norway and Russia. He was a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and member of the American Geophysical Union, The Oceanography Society, Phi Kappa Phi, Pi Tau Sigma, and the Society of Sigma Xi.

A self-avowed introvert, Bob was introduced to garlic and chili in New Mexico, and never looked back. He sang throughout his life, including barbershop, chorales and the Seattle and San Francisco Bach Choirs. He adored crossword puzzles, Seattle’s Sante Fe Café’s enchiladas (always green or “Christmas-style,” always), sitting for hours in zoo aviaries watching the birds, and classical and choral music (foremost Bach). Most of all, he loved the Arctic where he did field research for its stunning icescape and solitude.

In his final decade, he lovingly cared for his longtime partner, Betty, who suffered from advanced dementia for many years.

Bob is survived by his daughter, Sara B. Pritchard (Ron LeCain) of Ithaca, N.Y.; sisters Veronica Kelly of Australia, Gail Pickett of Pennsylvania, and Judy Loeffler of Oregon; sister-in-law Batista Simpson of Iowa; many nieces and nephews; and best friend Roy Frack of Illinois. He was predeceased by his parents, brother, ex-wife Barbara D. Pritchard, and partner Elizabeth (Betty) Dietz.

Sara thanks Alyshia and Michelle at Kaiser Palliative Care for extraordinary support; the dedicated staff at Greenwood Assisted Living, including Kathleen, Ruben, and Ian, and most of all Jolly; care manager Christine Yedica; LITA Program volunteer Jenny; and Ann Dolan.

Per his wishes, Bob’s ashes will be buried at Forks Church Cemetery in Easton, Pa. and scattered in the Arctic. Please consider a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, Lehigh University, or the Robert S. Pritchard Chair’s Excellence in Mechanical Engineering Fund at the University of New Mexico.

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