ROBERT FERRELL WELLS April 5, 1938 – Dec. 29, 2021
Robert Ferrell Wells, 83, passed away unexpectedly on December 29, 2021, at his home in Los Alamos, NM, following a short illness.
Born in Bend, Oregon, on April 5, 1938, Robert moved with his family to Anchorage in 1940. During WWII, American soldiers camped out on the family’s homestead on the Kenai Peninsula, and Robert recalled spotting Japanese submarines off the coast and GIs sharing chocolate with him and his younger sister from their K-rations. A self-taught artist, Robert spent countless hours filling sketchbooks with drawings capturing life in the Alaskan territory.
Accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Robert was part of the Class of 1962, where he was a founding member of their first rugby team and remembered in The Howitzer as “a true and sincere friend.” He received his B.S. in Engineering and married his first wife, Maria del Pilar Martinez de Picabia, immediately upon graduation.
Following a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1965-1966, where he operated as an air intelligence officer and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross & Campaign Medal, Robert was sent by the USAF to Oklahoma State University. At OSU, he earned a Master’s in Architectural Engineering in 1968 and in Civil Engineering in 1969, developing one of Air Force’s first computerized air traffic control systems, which was ultimately acquired by IBM.
Serving as the Base Civil Engineer at San Vito dei Normanni, Italy, from 1969-1972, was one of the highlights of his time in the military, leading to a lifetime love of Romance languages. Robert was repeatedly commended by USAF superiors for being one of the finest young officers and engineers with whom they’d come in contact, reflected in his selection as one of the Outstanding Young Leaders of America in 1970.
Assigned to the Pentagon as a staff architect and advanced technology construction program manager from 1973-1975, Robert once again distinguished himself. His PhD in Civil and Nuclear Engineering from Virginia Tech earned high acclaim from the Atomic Energy Commission and other government agencies for its innovative systems thinking and modeling.
Stints at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and the Defense Nuclear Agency in Albuquerque as branch chief, garnered him a Federal Executive Boards leadership award and numerous outstanding achievement honors. During this timeframe, he also mentored students as an adjunct professor in UNM’s School of Architecture and Community & Regional Planning.
Robert worked for another two decades at Los Alamos National Laboratory, initially as a deputy group leader in A-6 and later as the Lab’s Program Director for Construction Development. Over his lifetime, as a licensed landscape architect, Robert often lent his design talents to nonprofit projects, ranging from nature trails, playgrounds & campgrounds to civic beautification endeavors.
Following the death of his wife, Pilar, who battled cancer for 23 years, he was fortunate to have found another kindred spirit in Caroline Ann Dingus, who shared his love for the outdoors—hiking, biking, cross country skiing and traveling the world together over the next 17 years, often in their RV with their faithful terriers, Bruce and Macduff.
In retirement, Robert devoted himself to his passions for painting, sculpting, photography and civic involvement, serving on the Los Alamos County Planning & Zoning Commission and boards of the Los Alamos Historical Museum, Fuller Lodge Art Center, the Friends of Los Alamos County Libraries, and Art in Public Places. A voracious reader, Robert was always eager to engage in philosophical discussions and debates; as a staunch liberal, he was deeply concerned for the future of American democracy.
Robert was preceded in death by his first wife, Pilar, and his younger sister, Katherine, and is survived by his second wife, Caroline Ann Wells; his daughter, Tamara, and her husband, Joseph Banar, of Santa Fe; his son, Robin Marrin Wells, and his wife, Kate Fitzgerald, of Grand Marais, MN, and their daughters, Bronwyn and Aria; and many nieces, nephews and lifelong friends.
Robert’s remains will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date in a private family service. The family suggests that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be sent to the Los Alamos Historical Society, Fuller Lodge Art Center or Rotary Club International.
Robert Ferrell Wells April 5, 1938 – Dec. 29, 2021. Courtesy photo