School 29

Richard Stiles Greeley, Sr.

May 23, 2020


Richard Stiles (Dick) Greeley, a native of Framingham, MA, died May 23, at Chestnut Hill Hospital, Philadelphia, at the age of 92.   He was a Ph.D. chemist, then became a self-described systems engineer and analyst in his early career, but later became an environmental scientist.

At Harvard he majored in chemistry and studied under Prof. George Kistiakowsky, Manhattan Project researcher and later President Eisenhower’s science advisor.  Dick resided in Winthrop House, volunteered for the Crimson Key Society and pledged Sigma Alpha Epsilon.  He had a distinguished career as a hockey defenseman, earning MVP 1947-48, and varsity letters all four years.  He established four records:  most career goals (unbroken until 1990’s), most career points as a defenseman, most single season goals (16, unbroken until 2011), and most single season points.

At Winthrop House he recalled weekly discussions of cases presented in a Social Sciences course. The discussions made him more “liberal” in valuing the individual rather than institutions; he learned from the World War II veteran classmates that travel to other countries would be fascinating and rewarding; and he noted that it would be dangerous to set his personal future goals so low as to be readily attainable.  He was a proud Harvard ’49 alumnus, attending most reunions including the 70th last year, and embodied the College motto of Veritas. 

After Harvard, he received his Master’s in physical chemistry from Northwestern University in 1951.  It was while at Northwestern that he met and married Loretta Betke, of Ridgewood, NY, then a student teacher in the Winnetka, Illinois schools.  At both Harvard and Northwestern he was a member of Naval ROTC which led to service as the Chief Engineering Officer on the destroyer USS Van Valkenburgh during the Korean War.  He was a Gunfire Liaison Officer for the bombardment of Wonsan, North Korea.  The ship was also part of Task Force 77 during close air support operations in the Formosan Straits.  Following hostilities, the ship continued around the world visiting twenty ports in twelve countries.

Following his discharge from the Navy and decommissioning of the ship in 1954, he joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, serving in their Reactor Experimental Engineering Department.  He performed corrosion tests on materials used in a “homogeneous” breeder nuclear reactor.  That research led to his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee in 1959.

From 1960 to 1980, he worked for the MITRE Corporation, established by MIT and the Air force to perform systems engineering and provide technical direction on complex computer systems for the government.  Mr. Greeley’s nuclear and chemistry background was valuable to their studies of nuclear weapons’ effects on electronic systems as part of the US effort to establish an early nuclear warning system.  At its Bedford, Massachusetts, location, he assembled a group of scientists, engineers, and technicians to perform systems analysis, simulation, and budgeting of Air Force projects.  The most significant was a remote nuclear detonation detection system, described in his monograph, “NUDETS, Cocking the Trigger on Nuclear War”.  He oversaw the testing of a prototype on a remote Pacific atoll, Palmyra Island, during atmospheric nuclear testing in 1962.  He later shared, as a notable aspect of his life, that he had witnessed 25 nuclear bursts as well as a thermonuclear (hydrogen) weapon test, but “did not want to see another one.” A fictional treatment of his witnessing the nuclear testing became his novel, “Emmie and Roger”.

A possible opportunity to influence the course of the Vietnam War toward an American withdrawal prompted him to move his systems analysis talents to MITRE’s office in Washington, D.C. in 1967, to oversee the installation of the “McNamara Wall” of anti-intrusion sensors in Southeast Asia.  He spent three months in Thailand and South Vietnam (narrowly avoiding the Tet Offensive) putting the system into operation.  Mr. Greeley novelized his Vietnam experiences into “The Hootch Girl,” also titled “Flight from Hanoi: Into the Terror of the Ho Chi Minh Trail”.

Disaffection with the war and concern over the state of US cities in the late 1960’s led him to apply the systems engineering approach to projects for a range of federal agencies, state and city governments, the French government, and the Commission of European Communities (a body of the European Union).  MITRE’s office had by this time moved to McLean, Virginia.  There he managed work on housing and urban development, high speed rail and urban transportation, computer assisted instruction, cable television, health care delivery, environmental protection and pollution control, and energy.  The group he managed at MITRE facilitated the establishment of the EPA and was involved in the creation of the Energy Department.  He wrote a National Science Foundation report, “Energy Use and Climate,” calling for more use of alternate energy sources in order to prevent climate change; that was in 1975.  Since then he was an active advocate for the U.S. and the nations of the world to slow the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

To seek answers to U.S. energy policy questions, he organized and contributed to scientific conferences about energy resources domestically and in Japan, Europe, and the former Soviet Union.  For these conferences he enlisted as speakers, futurist Herman Kahn, hydrogen bomb inventor Dr. Edward Teller, and Nobel physicist Hans Bethe.

In 1980, he joined Roy F. Weston, Inc., an engineering firm headquartered in West Chester, PA., to direct their environmental division, but contracts with the federal EPA were halted by the new Reagan administration, and a recession slowed industrial spending on environmental and energy programs.  Mr. Greeley left Weston and founded his own environmental and economic consulting partnership, the Greeley-Polhemus Group, to apply their expertise to reducing the threat from Superfund sites.

Mr. Greeley then joined R.E. Wright Associates, to direct their King of Prussia, PA, office as General Manager.  His projects included EPA Superfund and Army Corps of Engineers contracts.  He officially retired in 1993.  After retirement, he continued consulting with homeowners’ associations and similar clients.   

He came out of retirement to develop alternative energy systems with the goal of eliminating the emissions of greenhouse gases.

In 2003, he managed a project demonstrating tidally-generated electric power through the use of a unique helically bladed turbine.  He and his wife, Lorie, joined with the turbine designer in a successful demonstration of a barge-mounted version of the turbine in the tidal waters off the far eastern tip of Long Island, New York. 

Among his published materials are coauthored textbooks on environmental science and solar energy systems.  He also produced monograph reports on energy and climate policy.  He wrote two historical novels based on his civilian experiences in Vietnam and his observation of nuclear tests in the South Pacific in the early 1960’s, as well as musings on philosophy and cosmology.  His research on his uncle, Robert Stiles (Harvard 1916), a WWI aviator, as well as on another WWI ace, Princeton hockey hero Hobey Baker, and the resulting book, “Tempt Fate,” were instrumental in the establishment of a historical site at a former battlefield in eastern France.   

In addition to his professional accomplishments, he was proud of at least two circumnavigations of the globe:  first, during his Naval service in the early 1950’s, then as part of organizing scientific conferences in the former Soviet Union and Japan in the 1970s.

In addition to remaining a lifelong Boston Bruins fan, since the days of Paul Ronty and Johnny Peirson, he established the Wheaton (MD) Hockey Club for boys, and mid-career he played hockey again in the Chesapeake Hockey League of local college teams and men’s clubs in the Washington-Baltimore area.  A benefit of being active in local hockey clubs was being on a first-name basis with the goal judge at the Washington Capitals games.

He researched the Greeley genealogy and enjoyed family history, especially his relation to Robert Stiles (Harvard 1916), World War I flying ace; Adolphus Greely, explorer; Samuel Sewell Greeley (Harvard 1844), Chicago engineer; Rev. Samuel May, the Unitarian abolitionist and early feminist; and  Judge Samuel Sewell, notable for his recanting of his witchcraft judgments at Salem.  He was proud that according to family lore there has been a Greeley at Harvard since the time of Deacon Greeley, Harvard class of 1804.

He was a loving husband, a loyal father, and a wonderful grandfather.  His wife, Loretta (Betke) Greeley (Barnard College, 1949), died in 2012.  He was the father of Richard Stiles Greeley, Jr. and Benjamin Betke Greeley.  He was grandfather to Daniel Hotis Greeley (deceased) and Owen Stiles Greeley, Benjamin Craig Estes Olds Greeley, and MaryElizabeth Gillespie Rouse Olds Greeley.

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