Robert R Prudhomme – rocket scientist, inventor, electronics expert, RADAR technician monitoring Russian ICBMs, NASA Space Shuttles and Mars landings, a lover of fast cars, brown liquor, his wife of 52 years, their six children and his six siblings with whom he won the bet that he’d outlive them all – departed this life February 26, 2021 for a planned rendezvous with his beloved Patricia in the good place after. He was 89.
Bob’s departure provides a giant relief to the Colorado state patrol on Lookout Mountain, his favorite driving track for terrifying his sisters, wife and his small children. He loved taking his boys on father-son trips with the YMCA Trail Blazers, where he taught his sons how to construct ice caves, shoot birds and start forest camp fires before leading fellow dads to drink whiskey and solve the world’s problems around countless campfires late into the night.
Bob worked for nearly 31 years at Martin Marietta and was instrumental in many Top Secret Projects which can’t be named because he took their secrets to his grave (along with who killed JFK). Some that can be named include the Mars Viking Lander, the Space Shuttle and beating the NASA computer in chess.
Bob was a man of principle and he found creative and unique ways to punish those who abused their power. Standing his ground against Martin executives was his favorite. In preparing to launch the very first Mars lander, one executive pressured Bob to sign off on his team’s test before it was complete. Bob said, “Okay, sign off on your full system test first and I will sign off on mine.” In the first major simulation test of the landing, it failed. Dad turned to him and said, “Congratulations, you signed off on crashing a billion-dollar lander.” That’s the last time he pressured Bob to do something unethical.
Heading into retirement he was afforded the opportunity to gain one more victim, when an executive asked him to add more work without going through the required change process to get paid for the work. Bob said, “Give me an email with what you want.” Then he took that tidbit of evidence to corporate legal and turned in the executive. He immediately marched to HR and filed his retirement papers. The executive was fired and Bob retired proving a statement he often used: “Don’t mess with me or it will go off in your face like a stick of dynamite… and always keep a ‘Pearl Harbor file’.”
Perhaps his greatest engineering feat occurred in Colorado in 1958, separating Patricia Roche from a man she had been dating by refusing to leave her apartment until her date finally gave up and left, leaving Bob to win over the unhappy Patricia, first as his girlfriend then eventually his wife. He married her six months later.
Bob always loved his children, he just loved the grandchildren more, recently telling Rob and Donna to shut up so he could listen to Faith (Donna and Todd’s daughter) on a Zoom call. Several months ago, Isaac (Mike and Linda’s youngest) visited Bob for a week. Each night, Bob and Isaac split a six pack and talked until midnight. Bob shared many surprising things with Isaac, including the fact that Isaac’s dad and uncles – now actual contributing members of society – were rotten in their youth, launching pellet gun wars, setting fires and the like. When confronted with the truth, Isaac’s elders responded: “The apples don’t fall far from the tree.”
The couple is survived by six children, Marie Ann Hathaway, Michael John (Linda Marie Feist), Robert Mark (Kathleen Helen Forlenza), Timothy Luke (Laura Bertha McNutt), Donna Jean (Todd Henry Fostvedt), Laura Jane (Brian Roger Nesbitt) and fifteen grandchildren – aka the beloved Rebekah Elsie (Brien Hartung), Patricia Alayna, Cassandra Marie, Nicholas Michael (Rachel (Kolb) Prudhomme), Hannah Marie (Jesus Vilcas), Nathaniel Robert, James Matthias (Aubree (Hughes) Prudhomme), Isaac Matthew, Justus Robert, Theresa Bernadette, Faith Marie (Anthony Whitehead) , Veronica Christi, Hope Ayn, Honor Alexis, Eamon Charles, and five great grandchildren Regina Helen, Basil Louis, Charles Martin, Ansel Sebastian, Margaret Angela.
Services will be held at All Saints Church Mar 3 2021, Rosary at 10:00 am, Mass at 11:00 am, interment will be at Fort Logan on a yet to be determined date, where he will be buried with Patricia, who was also a veteran.
Imagine Laying in a hospital bed for almost a year looking outside on a cold, gray, bleak scene of factories spewing black soot into the sky, where the sun was almost always obscured by either clouds or smog. That is how our dad spent his junior year in high school. So how did he deal with the boredom and isolation? By satisfying his insatiable curiosity in books. Mostly college level courses, including calculus. He read and studied and learned enough to qualify for a coveted New York State Regents scholarship, which represented an all-expense paid education at the University of Buffalo.
That experience was the foundation of a life spent learning, inventing, and teaching, much of it on the cutting edge of some of the most important scientific and technology breakthroughs in his lifetime.
Dad took that scholarship, but only stayed for a year before he decided that living in a tiny house with 5 other siblings and taking the train every day from Niagara Falls to Buffalo was not how he wanted to live anymore. So he joined the Air Force where as a mere Sergeant he qualified to become an the first non-commissioned instructor in the Radar Systems Course, teaching OFFICERS the basics of electronics, mathematics, and Radar in Biloxi Mississippi.
While in Biloxi dad learned something new. The art of getting people who out-rank you to do what you want them to. That was a skill that would pay off very well in both his professional career as well as at home where although he was the CEO he reported to the Chairman of the Board, Mom.
Following the four-year stint in Mississippi, Dad engaged in his great international adventure, moving to a remote mountain-top in Turkey for two years where he was the lead Technician for General Electric at a secret Radar Station monitoring Russian ballistic missile launches. During that time he developed some new skills and new habits, which could be called the 2, 1, 2 plan: Two Packs of Cigarettes, a fifth of bourbon, and a minimum of two rounds of poker per day. He also had time to engage in his passion for advanced mischief, one time getting the base donkey so drunk that the poor animal passed out, legs up, outside the officer’s club bar as some sort of perverse advertisement for what a great time could be had inside.
Once he had completed his two-year tour of gambling, smoking, and carousing around Europe, he returned to the United States where he discovered a new passion: Fast Cars, a hobby he indulged in generously in Laredo Texas, with reportedly many a late night run across the border to Nuevo Laredo where he maintained and improved the core skills of the 2-1-2 plan.
When fast cars weren’t enough, he started to learn how to fly, and that hobby ultimately led him to find the love of his life. One summer he flew with a friend in a small private plane to Colorado, where he became so enraptured with the natural beauty that he did the logical thing: he quit his extremely high paying job and moved to Colorado.
After a short but unsuccessful stint running an auto repair shop, he secured a job with Martin Marietta Aerospace. Not long after beginning his new job, he met the woman who changed his life, and gave us ours; the love of his life, our mom Patricia. Being the stubborn guy that he was, dad was not dissuaded by the fact mom was scheduled for a date at the time a mutual friend introduced them, so he decided the best way for her to end it was for him to be at her apartment when the guy showed up for the date. Dad REFUSED to leave, so the other guy eventually did, which DID NOT make mom very happy initially. However, he eventually overcame the less than stellar first impression getting engaged within 6 months and they were married within a year.
To this day my wife Kathleen’s favorite photo is the two of them on the day of their wedding. Dad looks like a jewel thief who pulled off the heist of the century, and mom looks like she is not sure what she was getting herself into. That started a tradition among his three sons and grandsons of marrying out of our league.
Mom’s influence also brought dad back to his faith. Like everything else, when he decided to invest time about learning about the Catholic Church, he not only learned the catechism, but also read the 20 volume set: The History of Western Civilization, much of which was shaped by the early church. Not only did we attend church every week, but he and mom also gave of their time, volunteering to lead Jr. Great Books (Where some of us always seemed to run out of time to finish the book the night before the next meeting), and counseling couples as part of Marriage Encounter. From his two visits to Fatima in 1992 until his death, he and mom said the rosary or chaplet of Divine mercy together every day. It was almost like he was trying to earn his redemption for the years in Turkey.
During his career he was on the cutting edge of some of the most important scientific and technology breakthroughs of the last 60 years.
• He taught RADAR systems when it was still a relatively new field.
• He was literally a rocket scientist, leading engineering quality assurance teams on the Titan, Apollo, Viking, and Space Station programs
• He taught himself computer programming on the very first computers.
• He invented a technology that dramatically improved guidance control systems for rockets and ballistic missiles. Decades later when Mike was taking an advanced mathematics course in college, dad’s paper was referenced in the textbook.
• He published and presented papers in professional engineering journals where the other scientists addressed him as Dr. Prudhomme because they assumed that someone who published something so important to their field must be a PhD. At the time he did not even yet have a college degree.
• He was responsible for testing every line of software code for the first Mars Landing. The Viking probe was expected to transmit data for two years from the surface of Mars, but dad’s software was still sending messages twenty years later.
In his spare time later in his career, he started a business in our garage. To do so, he taught himself most of the new Personal Computer operating systems available at the time (Commodore, Microsoft, Apple, IBM). Using this knowledge he developed a security device for personal computers, known as BitLock, which is still in use today. He also used that company to provide employment and training for several of his children; Marie and Tim who had paid positions, and the rest of us who are still waiting on our paychecks for cold winter nights spent pouring hot epoxy into blue boxes in that freezing garage.
While successful in his career, dad’s greatest project was those of us you see here today. He always encouraged us, (some might say harassed, cajoled and demanded) to focus on our educations first. As Laura reminds us, one of her earliest memories was being in the crib as a toddler watching Bob study as he worked to finish his degree, while ostensibly babysitting her. Even as a cute and precocious toddler she sometimes struggled to get his attention away from the books.
Marie reminded me that when she was very young probably still in Kindergarten, dad would drill her on arithmetic exercises to make sure she fully grasped the concepts of Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division. To this day each of us bear the scars of our early math tutoring, but most of us also owe our professional success to his insistence that we understand the language of science, even if we didn’t love it as much as he did.
For some of us resisting the books was the ultimate act of defiance, but life growing up was not all studying. Dad enjoyed his time in the outdoors too. He signed us boys up for the YMCA Trailblazers and we spent many a weekend in the high country of Colorado learning how to ride horses, shoot, build fires, and survive in the wilderness. I am not sure how proficient he was in those skills or even how much he loved them, but he definitely enjoyed supervising our education with a fine canteen scotch and nights of poker with the other dads, schooling his peers what was now the 1-2 plan as he had stopped smoking when he met mom. One particularly hard weekend our brother Tim, acting as a responsible Trailblazer, put out a smoldering fire with the contents of Dad’s canteen. A fine 12-year-old scotch.
When we got older and the grandchildren started to arrive, he and mom relished their own children finally realizing what they meant when they said “When you have your own children, you’ll understand”. He emphasized the need to have guardrails to keep kids from wandering so far out into the desert that they couldn’t make it back to the road. And he and mom would provide an assist here and there when they could see we needed it.
But he mostly just relished the time spent with his large extended family where he had a built-in captive audience to share his latest reading with. Even when some of us started to learn more than he knew about certain topics, that advantage usually didn’t last more than two conversations before he had discovered something we didn’t know about OUR area of expertise.
When mom passed away in 2011, we assumed dad would follow her within a year. But surprise, surprise he decided to hang on a little longer. When he asked his doctor 5 years ago how much longer he had to live, his doctor said “You’ve already outlived my expectations.”
We thought the end was here six weeks ago when dad had his Lazarus experience, during a wicked bout with pneumonia that had landed him in the ICU. Early on a Sunday morning the Doctor called to tell Marie that everyone who wanted to see him should get to the hospital ASAP. After a four hour Zoom call with his children and grandchildren each taking turns saying their tearful goodbyes, one of the nurses pulled Laura aside and said that the family would have to leave unless he was “actively dying”.
Later in the week when they had moved him out of the ICU, Donna called him and asked, “So are you doing better or are you dying?” He responded, “No I’m not dying I don’t know where the hell that came from.” Donna questioned him as to why the medical staff would have thought that and he said he didn’t know but he was angry and had told the Dr, “I’m done with this, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Donna started laughing hysterically and told him “Dad I think they thought you meant you were dying and didn’t want to keep fighting anymore, not that you were sick of the mask.” The fact he was wearing an oxygen mask and the hospital staff had lost his dentures probably contributed to the confusion.
It is hard not to think that the last year of his life was spent much the same way his year in the hospital in Niagara Falls was. He was sick and alone in a hospital bed studying, learning, and sharing what he knew with the big beautiful extended family that he and mom poured their lives into building. He never lost his love of mom, his family, his sense of humor, or the joy of learning new things. Right up until the end he was sharing the latest research on the Pandemic and key insights from the latest Joe Rogan podcast.
His greatest achievement by far was the people sitting in this church. As we realized towards the end, dad LOVED his children, but he loved his grandchildren even more. This point was driven home painfully to me and Donna on a Zoom call several weeks ago when dad told us to “SHUT UP. I want to hear what Faith has to say” So in honoring his wishes we have now asked a few of the grandchildren to come up to share their memories of their grandpa.