Obituary: Robert Walter Rowley

Robert Rowley
Robert Rowley

Robert “Bob” Walter Rowley, died on Saturday, July 22. He died peacefully at home in La Cañada Flintridge at the age of 82. His death was the result of complications from congestive heart failure.
Bob is survived by his loving wife of 52 years, Norma Rowley, eldest son Don Rowley and wife Gigi Rowley, granddaughters Darla and Alana Rowley, and youngest son Jim Rowley; brother David Rowley and wife Del Rowley and their daughters Kathy Bork (husband Stan Bork), Chris Linkletter (husband Scott Linkletter) and Kim Rowley-Rodriguez (husband Carlos Rodriguez). Bob was preceded in death by his parents, Jeff and Dorothy Rowley.
Bob was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1934. He graduated Lehigh University in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree. Bob was very proud of being a member of the Phi Kappa Alpha fraternity that he joined during his time in college. He loved college and went on to earn his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1957. After graduate school, Bob’s interest in seeing new places led him to take a job on the West Coast at Aerojet, a well-known California aerospace company at the time. It is there that Bob met Norma.
Bob and Norma were married in 1964 and traveled up the California coast on their honeymoon. Bob eventually took a job at the Jet Propulsion Lab where he worked for 37 years until he retired at age 62. Their first child, Donald, was born in 1966 and Jim was born two years later. In 1972, while camping with his family at El Mirage dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert, Bob had a motorcycle accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury. Bob went on to return to work, contributed to many JPL projects, mentored young engineers, traveled extensively and raised his family. For Bob, the life he led after his injury was a matter of continuing his life, just doing it differently.
Bob had a lifelong love of all things mechanical. A common sight at home was Bob bent over a work bench, toiling away at his latest project. Over the years, he worked on everything from small- to large-scale trains and airplanes, rebuilding a Cooper Mark 5 race car, building and racing Tether cars, making a miniature Chris Craft model boat, to restoring an antique Crosley car engine.
Throughout his life, he loved to travel with Norma and his sons. Early in his life, he drove the family motorhome, retrofitted for handicapped driving, for many memorable family vacations. This included vacations that crossed the United States four separate times and camping in almost all 48 states in the continental United States. After retirement, Bob and Norma continued to travel. This included several cruises, together and with friends, which included Alaska, Hawaii and Bob’s favorite, seeing the Panama Canal.
In retirement, some of Bob’s happiest moments were those spent with his granddaughters, Darla and Alana. It was often observed by friends and family that he would light up whenever he talked about them.
Bob will be remembered by those who loved him as inquisitive, with a dry sense of humor and as an honorable man. Regarding the latter, it was often joked within the family that Bob was honed to a fault. It was telling that one of his favorite books was “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and his favorite movie was “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which he watched every Christmas.
To remember Bob, a private celebration-of-life ceremony will be held on a date to be arranged. His ashes will be scattered by his sons in a place he loved. In lieu of flowers, please send a donation for spinal cord injury research to the W.M Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience (