Dr. Robert L. Rockwell

Dr. Robert L. RockwellDr. Robert Lawrence Rockwell, avid mountaineer, contributor to China Lake work and Burroughs High School graduate, died in Ridgecrest on Oct. 29, 2019.

Where do you start when honoring such a life? He was born on Nov. 18, 1935, to Floyd (“Rocky”) and Jean Rockwell in Portsmouth, N.H., and was raised across the bridge in Eliot, Maine. Winters he skated on frozen ponds; summers were for building wooden cars and other adventures.

Bob and sister Anne read the complete Book of Knowledge encyclopedia. When they finished with Z, they would start over again at A.

The Rockwell family moved to China Lake in 1950. Bob was quarterback and co-captain of the football team at BHS. He graduated in 1953, receiving the Bank of America Achievement Award for Mathematics. During summers and vacations from college, he worked at the Naval Ordnance Test Station.

After Bob received a bachelor’s degree with honors in physics, Phi Beta Kappa, from UC Berkeley, he began his junior professional tour on base. At the end of his tour in 1960, Bob met Sheila Williams. Their first date was in May; they were married in September.

Bob was awarded Navy fellowships for graduate school at Stanford University and was forever grateful for the experience. He received his master’s and PhD in aeronautics and astronautics.

His PhD dissertation was “Nonlinear Analysis of Pressure and Shock Waves in Blood Vessels.” Bob continued to collaborate on this work with his advisor, Dr. Max Anliker, at Stanford and in Zurich, Switzerland.

Back in our valley, he joined the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group and remained an active member for more than 50 years. His love of the mountains began in high school when he and friends, quite unprepared, climbed Mt. Whitney. They witnessed an atomic bomb test in Nevada from the summit. Bob went on to climb Mt. Whitney more than 160 times, also climbing in México, Alaska, Peru, Argentina, Africa, China, Pakistan, Tibet and the Soviet Union. Bob’s highest climb was Pik Kommunizma, at 24,590 feet. In all, he summited more than 1,700 peaks. His favorite climbs were in the Sierra Nevada, where a mountain pass is named after him.

Reading and good music were other passions. He was a volunteer ranger for Inyo County, and served on the Sierra Sands school board, 1979-1983. He taught classes at Cerro Coso Community College and graduate courses at China Lake. He was also an accomplished writer, publishing articles online and in print. Bob and longtime climbing friend, Al Green, bought and operated a mountaineering supply store, Mountain High, Ltd.

At China Lake Bob loved the work, the people, and the life. He received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award at his retirement in 1990.

Bob’s family was his foundation. Surviving him are sons Kurt (Kris) and Bruce (Adriene), daughter Jennifer Frank (Will), and “his first wife” Sheila. Grandchildren are Adam, Alex, Kassidy, and Liam Rockwell; Katie Pham; and Brooklynn, Austin, and Madison Frank. He is also survived by sister Anne Alberts (Pete), and brother Brian (Leslie).

Bob’s parents and brother Roger predeceased him. His death left a huge hole in so many lives, but the memories are priceless.

He was, indeed, Some Guy.

In 2005 Bob wrote: “I want to point out that I have lived a full life. I have had so many magnificent adventures and experiences, have learned so much and have been surrounded by so many wonderful family members and friends. Nothing missed and no regrets.”

The Celebration of Life “Gathering” that Bob requested will be held Jan. 11, 2 p.m., at the Kerr McGee Center in Ridgecrest. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the China Lake Museum Foundation, the Maturango Museum or the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group.

— Submitted by the family of Bob Rockwell

Story First Published: 2020-01-03