Robert R Brownlee of Loveland, CO died Wednesday, May 2, 2018. The eldest of three children born to Clarence W and Francis C Brownlee in Zenith Kansas, Robert was born on March 4, 1924. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife Addie Leah Brownlee, sisters Donice Buller, Kay Brownlee and grandson Michael Groseclose.
Robert came of age during the Great Depression, living on the family farm in rural Kansas. He said he came alive at age 5 when he started questioning the world around him. Then he started analyzing. That never stopped for his entire life. During WWII he served as a navigator of B-29’s in the Army Air Corps, flying over the great expanses of the Pacific Ocean. He was on the island of Tinian at the end of the war. After the war, he completed his college education, taught high school science and math before earning a doctorate in astrophysics and astronomy. Armed with his Ph.D., Robert took a job at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory where he remained for 37 years, forging an exceptional career executing and analyzing nuclear tests at Bikini and Eniwetok Atolls and at the Nevada Test Site. Once retired, he wrote a book about his life, providing a rare glimpse into the life of a nuclear weapons scientist. His technical knowledge was so vast that he continued to advise, mentor and teach new generations of scientists, keeping his clearance’s right up until the time of his death. Colleagues, friends and family knew him as a great resource of knowledge, wisdom, humor and his strong Christian faith.
Robert had degrees from Sterling College, the University of Kansas and Indiana University. His honors and awards include being a National Foundation Fellow, a University Fellow, and an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Sterling College. He was given the Distinguished Associate Award of the Department of Energy in 1993. At Los Alamos, he was an Alternate Division Leader of the Nuclear Test Division, and the Division Leader of the Geosciences Division. He had many duties associated with the Joint Task Forces responsible for nuclear atmospheric testing in the Pacific. For many years he served as Chairman of the Hazards Evaluation Group, an advisory group to the Commanders of the Joint Task Force and was the Scientific Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force Eight at the time of its inactivation in 1975. Recognized by many as the Father of Underground Testing, he was tasked with designing and overseeing the first containment tests at the Nevada Test Site. The initial containment experiments resulted in the successful launching of a “manhole cover” into space. LOL. He was present for more than 300 underground nuclear tests. He was the Scientific Advisor to the Director of the Office of Military Applications in Washington, D.C. and the alternate chairman of the Containment Evaluation Panel of the Nevada Operations Office of the Atomic Energy Commission, ultimately the Department of Energy. He was also a member of the scientific US delegation to the United Nations for the Geothermal Energy Program and a visiting Assistant Professor of Astronomy at UCLA. He served as a member of the Lunar Settlement Working Group who gave testimony before the National Commission on Space. He participated in solar eclipse expeditions to the Pacific, Mexico, Canada, South America, Montana and Africa. He was a participant and sometimes a test director of research rocket launches in Kauai and Poker Flat, Alaska. He was a member of the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the International Astronomical Union, and the Royal Astronomical Society. He was listed in American Men of Science, Dictionary of International Biography, Leaders in American Science and in MARQUIS Who’s Who in the West.
Robert’s love of travel was one outlet of his love of learning. During his lifetime he traveled to more than 90 countries. Most of those travels he shared with his wife, Addie Leah and a good number of them he shared with his offspring and other family members as well as friends. He was an accomplished pianist and organist, having at one time even considered a professional career in music.
During the 1970’s he took up the hobby of stained glass and made several windows for the United Church in Los Alamos New Mexico which are still installed there. Many friends and family have been the happy recipients of panels or lampshades that he has created.
Robert is survived by daughter Jeanne Berndsen and husband Johnny, daughter Nancy Bonnema and husband John, son Wayne Brownlee and wife Sharon, daughter Wenda Brownlee-Josh and husband Jerry, son Chipper Brownlee all living in Loveland, CO. Surviving also is foster son Elimelek John of Ebeye, Marshall Islands. Robert leaves 18 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren, honorary children and numerous nieces and nephews, all who played a big part in his life.