Robert Frosch

Robert A. Frosch, a longtime Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researcher and life trustee, died December 30 in South Hadley after a long illness. He was 92.

Until his death, he was active in both scientific and technical policy activities. In addition to WHOI, he also held posts in the United Nations and at NASA.

He was the husband of Jessica R. (Denerstein) Frosch. They were married in 1957 in New York City and had moved to Falmouth in 1975 after purchasing a house in Quissett. His wife died in January 2016.

Considered the “father of industrial ecology,” Dr. Frosch is credited with launching the field in 1989 with a series of articles, the first of which was published in Scientific American and titled “Strategies for Manufacturing.” The articles he wrote in the late 1980s and early 1990s drew attention to the importance of managing industrial processes and waste in an environmentally acceptable manner. He is internationally recognized for his contributions to the development of environmentally friendly technologies.

His most recent position at WHOI had been as guest investigator from 2006 to 2016 in the Ocean Acoustics and Signals Laboratory. When he moved to South Hadley following his wife’s death, he remained a mentor to his Woods Hole colleagues and continued to share his ideas with them.

Born in New York City, he was educated in the public school system in the Bronx. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Columbia College in 1947, and a PhD in physics from Columbia University in 1952, at the age of 23.

Between 1951 and 1963, Dr. Frosch worked as a research scientist and director of research programs for Hudson Laboratories of Columbia University. He went to Washington, DC, to work in Defense Department in 1963.

From January 1973 to July 1975, he served as assistant executive director of the United Nations Environmental Program. After serving at the UN for two years, he became WHOI’s director of research from 1975 to 1977.

He then went on to NASA under the Carter administration, where he was the agency’s fifth administrator. While at NASA, Dr. Frosch was responsible for overseeing the continuation of the development effort on the Space Shuttle.

He left NASA with the change of presidential administrations and, in 1981, he became the first president of the American Association of Engineering Societies. In 1982, he moved to the General Motors Research Laboratories, where he was appointed vice president of research and development in research labs.

Dr. Frosch remained active in both scientific and technical policy activities until his death.

He leaves a daughter, Elizabeth Frosch-Dratfield, and her two children, Jonah Dratfield and Lael Dratfield, all of South Hadley; a daughter, Dr. Margery Frosch and daughter-in-law, Dr. Meryle Weinstein, of Brooklyn, New York; a brother, Dr. William Frosch of New York City; a nephew, Dr. Matthew Frosch of Newton; a niece, Dr. Emily Frosch of Columbia, Maryland; and other extended family.

A memorial service is planned for fall 2021.

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