Deep Springs mourns the loss of distinguished alumnus and board member Dr. Robert Lamb Sproull, DS’35 CB’38 TA’38, who passed away peacefully yesterday at his home in Rochester New York on Oct. 9. The University of Rochester has announced Bob’s passing here: Robert Sproull Tribute. Robert Sproull was born in 1918 in Illinois. He joined the Deep Springs Student Body in 1935 and spent three years in the Valley. In later years he would often fondly recall the fulfilling manual accomplishments of the labor program, even including the use of horses to do much of the fieldwork around the farm. Already an accomplished student, he taught calculus to his fellow students in the SB. He went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in English and ultimately a Ph.D. in Physics from Cornell University in 1943.
Dr. Sproull began his career as a physicist during the Second World War. His experimental thesis became classified due to its applications with microwave magnetrons. He taught physics to Navy and Marine students, and microwave theory to Navy and industrial engineers. He received an assistant professorship in physics at Cornell in 1946 and advanced quickly. He was the first director of the Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics as well as the Center for Materials Research. He became director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later known as DARPA) from 1963-1965, which was established by President Eisenhower in 1958 amidst the depths of the Cold War to develop new technologies with potential military application. Dr. Sproull promoted greater cooperation among academia, government and industry toward that end, and many technologies ultimately found significant roles in the civilian world, as well.
Bob became Vice-President for academic affairs at Cornell in 1965. In 1968, he moved to the University of Rochester to become provost, and subsequently served as president from 1970 to 1984, during the particularly tumultuous period extending from the campus unrest of the late 1960s through the steep inflationary period of the 1970s. He was an equal advocate for both the humanities and the sciences, boosting the university’s endowment and leading establishment of the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, which became a leading research lab. He also served as chairman of the Defense Science Board from 1968-1970. He retired as Chief Executive from University of Rochester and resumed teaching as a Professor of Physics in 1985.
Dr. Sproull was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He served on a variety of corporate boards, including Xerox and Bausch & Lomb, and in later years worked as an advisor for the departments of Energy and Defense. He also served as a trustee of Cornell University and Wilkes-Barre College.
Bob served two separate terms on the Deep Springs board of trustees, the first time from 1967-1975, and again 1983-1987. He was highly regarded as a constant champion of the college. Chris Breiseth, former president of both Deep Springs and Telluride Association, who knew and worked with Bob for over fifty years, described him as “A paragon of Deep Springs alumni – generous and hardworking, tough-minded and perceptive.” During the college’s campus-wide reconstruction in the late 1990s, a generous and timely gift from Bob and Mary Sproull provided the funds to build the new Student Body Dorm, where the Students have lived ever since. Mary pre-deceased Bob in 2012; the two had been married for 70 years. Bob is survived by his son, Robert, daughter Nancy, and three grandchildren.