PSR mourns former trustee Robert Riddell

August 23, 2007

Robert James Riddell, Jr., PhD, former chair of the Board of Trustees of Pacific School of Religion, died August 16, 2007, at his home in Oakland, CA. Dr. Riddell served Pacific School of Religion (PSR) over a 30-year period and was also a life trustee at the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of nine seminaries, including PSR, in Berkeley, CA.

"No individual has meant more to Pacific School of Religion over the past half century than Bob Riddell," said William McKinney, president of PSR. "He joined our board in 1970 and served as board chair from 1979 to 1984. Bob chaired the committee for the construction of our main classroom building and headed the search committee that called Neely McCarter to the PSR presidency. Among many gifts to this seminary and to the Graduate Theological Union, in 2001 Bob and Kay Riddell endowed a PSR faculty position in Bible and Archeology."

Bob Riddell was born June 25, 1923 and raised in Peoria, Illinois. Recognized as one of 10 outstanding high schools students in 1941 with a George Westinghouse scholarship, he earned a BS from Carnegie Institute of Technology before entering the U.S. Navy. After the war, he earned his MS and PhD in high-energy particle physics at the University of Michigan. Edward Teller invited him to join the University of California, and he had a 30-year career as a theoretical physicist with the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (now the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory).

Throughout his years in California, he was an active member of First Congregational Church of Berkeley, which he served in many leadership positions, including moderator, treasurer, and chair of deacons. It was this church connection that led him to service at nearby PSR and the Graduate Theological Union.

He married Kathryn Gamble in 1950. In retirement, the couple began to satisfy their deep passion for horticulture, gradually developing a magnificent garden at their home in El Cerrito, CA , filled with unusual rhododendrons, proteas, and other plants from around the world. Robert was invited to join the Board of the Friends of the University of California Botanical Garden. Soon he was president, working to revitalize the Friends, who in turn revitalized the Botanical Garden and helped re-establish it as one of the preeminent botanic gardens in the U.S.

Robert Riddell is survived by his wife Kathryn; daughter Cindy Riddell Dunham of Lincolnville, Maine, son James Riddell of Montrose, Colorado, and three grandchildren. He was predeceased by a son, Stephen Louis Riddell.

A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. on October 12 at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, on Dana Street between Durant Ave. and Channing Way. The family encourages memorial donations to: First Congregational Church of Berkeley, Pacific School of Religion, the Graduate Theological Union, or the University of California Botanical Garden.

A tribute to his father » by James Riddell