Tribute to Robert James Riddell from son James Riddell

August 23, 2007

A man of ideas, caring, vision, and action, he didn't do anything halfway.

At the age of 84, Bob breathed his last breath with his wife Kay at his side, August 16, 2007.

Bob Riddell was born June 25, 1923 and raised in Peoria, Illinois, where he developed a lifelong love of model trains and ships, golf, and learning. Recognized as one of 10 outstanding high school students in 1941 with a George Westinghouse scholarship, he earned a B.S. from Carnegie Institute of Technology before entering the U.S. Navy. Bob resumed his education, earning his MS and PhD in high-energy particle physics at the University of Michigan, leading to an invitation from Edward Teller to join the University of California and a 30-year career in theoretical physics with the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (later Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory).

On August 12, 1950, Bob began a 57-year loving marriage to a home-town gal, Kathryn Gamble. Bob and Kay had three children, and a very lively family life involving skiing, travel, and usually at least one dog.

Though he didn't talk publicly about it very often, Bob's faith was a powerful force in his life. Throughout his years in California, he was a very active member of First Congregational Church of Berkeley. A true "elder" of the church even at a relatively young age, he served in many leadership positions, including moderator, treasurer, chair of the deacons, reconstruction and pastoral search committees, head usher, and innumerable other vital positions.

Concern for the church of the future as much as the church of the present led him to become a trustee of the Pacific School of Religion and later the Graduate Theological Union, positions he filled faithfully for 30 and 20 years, respectively, at times even serving as chair of each board, and he was later named a life trustee at the GTU. Bob and Kay were also able to establish scholarship funds for both institutions, as well as for The College Preparatory School in Oakland, where both their sons graduated from high school and where Bob later served as trustee.

As the children moved away, and retirement approached, Bob and Kay began to satisfy their deep passion for horticulture, gradually developing a magnificent garden at their home in El Cerrito, filled with unusual rhododendrons, proteas, and other plants from around the world. The plants weren't the only ones traveling the world. So were Bob and Kay, with trips to see gardens, historical sites, and natural wonders around the globe.

Never one to take something on without learning all he could about it, Bob's connections with the Pacific Horticultural Society, the California Horticultural Society, the Rhododendron Society, and the North American Rock Garden Society led to Kay's suggestion that he be invited to join the Board of the Friends of the University of California Botanical Garden. Soon he was president, working to revitalize the Friends, which in turn revitalized the Botanical Garden, reestablishing it as one of the preeminent botanic gardens in the U.S.

As may be obvious, the scope of Bob's interests was nearly limitless. For 50 years he participated in Outlook, one of the oldest men's discussion groups in California. Like the Outlook group, he read and studied and absorbed whatever he could about anything, usually at a remarkably sophisticated level. He loved travel, photography, digging and plumbing and carpentry and gourmet restaurants. He loved his family; he loved his wife; he loved his life. We loved it, too.

Dr. 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. We miss him. The world is a better place and we are better people for his having been here.

A memorial service is planned for 2:00 p.m. Friday, October 12, 2007 at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, on Dana St. between Durant Ave. and Channing Way.

Memorial donations are encouraged to: First Congregational Church of Berkeley, Pacific School of Religion, the Graduate Theological Union, or the University of California Botanical Garden.

James Riddell
Montrose, CO