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Obituary: Robert J. Donovan

Innovative Sonar Physicist, Loving Father, World Traveler

Obituary for Waterford
Obituary for Waterford
Robert J. Donovan, 86, beloved father and grandfather, died peacefully Tuesday, January 21, 2014 after a short illness at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut, surrounded by his family. He was a long-time resident of Waterford, Connecticut.

Bob was born in Bristol, Connecticut on April 21, 1927, the son of Timothy H. Donovan and Mary (Moody) Donovan. With his parents’ permission, he joined the United States Navy in January 1945, three months before his 18th birthday. After his Navy service, he attended Tufts University on the GI bill and graduated with a degree in physics in 1950.  After graduation, he went to work at the Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory (later NUSC) in New London.  He began his career there working as a physicist doing research in underwater acoustics and submarine and surface ship sonar.  When he retired from the lab in 1982, he was the director of program and financial management at the labs in New London and Newport, Rhode Island, and was responsible for establishing a technology transfer office at the lab.  He received many awards and citations from the Navy throughout his career, but the honor he seemed most proud of was the Decibel Award for his significant contributions to the field of underwater acoustics.  After retiring he continued working part time as a consultant, primarily in the field of transferring military technology to civilian use.

In 1953 Bob married Roxanne Byrnes of Pomfret, Connecticut, the sister of his college roommate, Jim Byrnes.  They had seven years together until her untimely death from cancer in 1960. He was a single parent to their three young children until 1965, when he married Bernice (Dowd) Russell of Waterford, Connecticut, a widow with two children.  When they married, they agreed that they would not wait until retirement to see the world and would take camping trips with the children every summer and getaways by themselves every winter. From the time of Bob’s retirement until Bernice’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, they enjoyed many years of traveling the world and had a special place in their hearts for La Paz in Baja, Mexico where they would spend a couple of months every winter.

Bob filled his life with his many interests and hobbies beyond science and traveling.  He golfed as much as humanly possible, gardened, hiked, fished, skied, read, greatly enjoyed music and theater, and was a loyal friend to many.  But he will be most remembered for his devotion to his family. He is survived by his three children: Lisa Donovan (Edward Heins) of Brooklyn, New York; Jerry Donovan of Stonington, Connecticut; Jeffrey Donovan (Joan) of Waterford, Connecticut; his two stepdaughters: Margaret Fielding (Thomas) of Newtown, Connecticut and Susan Gillespie (Billy) of Plymouth, Massachusetts; his grandchildren: Timothy and Bryan Donovan; Ross, Will, and Peter Donovan; Liam and Conor Heins; Benjamin, Lily, and Kate Fielding; and three great-granddaughters: Ella, Abigail, and Rebecca Fielding. He is also survived by his brother Colonel (Ret.) Timothy H. Donovan (Jackie) of Lake Frederick, Virginia, his sister-in-law JoAnn Byrnes of Pomfret, Connecticut, and many nieces and nephews.  He was predeceased by his wife, Bernice D. Donovan; his brother, William Donovan; and (by only 11 days), his sister, Anna M. Cappiello.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 10:00 at St. Agnes Church, Haigh Avenue, Niantic, Connecticut. Burial will follow in St. Mary Cemetery, Jefferson Avenue, New London. Calling hours will be held on Friday, January 31, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Thomas L. Neilan & Sons Funeral Home, 48 Grand Street, Niantic, Connecticut. Donations in Bob’s memory may be made to a charity of your choice.
christine donovan January 30, 2014 at 11:21 AM
A truly remarkable man. He will be greatly missed.

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