Robert J. Richter, 84, of Gloucester, died on June 26, 2016 from complications of pneumonia and dementia.
His life was never dull; he entered each phase of it with determination, and excitement. He did not have a college degree, but he had an auto-renewing curiosity that generated endless enthusiasm for learning and on-topic study. He had the vision and ability to look at an object, design or job and make it better and to make it work.
Perhaps it was growing up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y., during the later years of the Great Depression, the only child of a mother widowed young that taught Richter to be so enterprising, innovative, and self-reliant. Even as a teenager, he was a keen observer of events—he followed local fire companies, capturing their work in photos that he sold to the New York Times and Daily News, and covered sporting events for the papers, too. He led youth hostel trips and did construction projects for neighbors, and at the age of 16 worked as a roustabout for the Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus.
His favorite pastimes, rock climbing and spelunking, earned him a spot among sixty-four explorers, rock climbers, geologists, meteorologists, surveyors, photographers, and reporters organized by the National Speleological Society in 1954 to explore and do scientific research on a seven-day expedition into Floyd Collins Crystal Cave in Kentucky—the first scientific cave exploration in the U.S. At that time Richter was working in the labs at Pfizer, while going to school, and he persuaded the company to pay his expenses on this expedition. He collected soil samples for Pfizer, and whenever interviewed talked about Terramycin, Pfizer’s new wonder drug developed from soil samples.
Richter then went into the construction field full-time starting as a laborer and moving through the ranks. He became an expert on exterior walls of buildings. Known in the industry as a problem solver, he was brought in as a consultant on many construction projects to figure out how to build intricate architectural designs. In the 1980s he was hired as a consultant to design, and oversee the manufacturing and installation of a new ceiling in the Holland Tunnel. In a Talk of the Town piece in The New Yorker Magazine about his work on this complex project Richter said, “To me, a ceiling is just a wall turned 90 degrees.”
Following the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, he was appointed head of logistics on the disaster recovery team that brought massive generators and other equipment in from all over the country that could power up the Trade Center from the outside until its mechanical systems could be replaced.
He was awarded a number of grants from the government’s Small Business Innovative Research Grant Program, including some from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make scale-model wave attenuation devices that had to meet very stringent requirements, and to design and build a “wave run-up” gauge to aid the Corps of Engineers with research on erosion, tsunamis and rogue waves. He also was awarded grants from ARL (Army Research Labs) on “less than lethal weaponry,” and EMI and RFI shielding.
Richter moved from New York to Gloucester, Va., full-time in 2000, where he continued his consulting work for a few years. He enjoyed being out on the water, and served in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary on the Hudson River, and with Flotilla 64 in Gloucester.
His wife, Joyce; six children from previous marriages, Jesse, Johan and Scott Richter, Dawn Richter Yokup, Lisa Lee, Heidi Richter Howard; and nine grandchildren survive him. The staff at the Cottage at Gloucester House became honorary family members during the final months of his life.
His love for animals is reflected in this scrimshaw portrait done by artist Linda Walker of Ware Neck. If you wish, donations in Bob Richter’s memory can be made to the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society, P.O. Box 385, Gloucester, Va. 23061, where he was a very active volunteer and supporter.
Arrangements by Hogg Funeral Home and Crematory, Gloucester Point. Family and friends may share condolences and memories at www.hoggfh.com.