In the space of 81 years, Dick Gilbert managed to pack in enough achievements and experiences to fill multiple lifetimes. Born in New York, raised in Louisville Kentucky, he spent 37 years on the Chemical Engineering faculty of the University of Nebraska. His achievements as an teacher and researcher were considerable, yet he still found time to study music and play multiple instruments, to run marathons, to become a licensed pilot, a beekeeper, a gardener, a sailor, an amateur astronomer and, during a sabbatical in Peru, to teach himself Spanish so that he could write the first Peruvian chemical engineering textbook. He was also a beloved father, raising five children with his first wife, Jean.
Dick remarried in 1994, to Dorothy (“Doc”) Cunney and, following his retirement from his university post in 1996, they moved to Oughterard. For most people, such a retirement move would represent a well-earned excuse to put one’s feet up. However, Dick opened himself to his adopted country, and to a new extended family, with the same passion and sense of wonder that had lead him to so many achievements in his native America. He loved the rain, the turf fires, the blás of life in Connemara. He learned to speak Irish and, on one occasion, was even able to use his knowledge of the language to foil an attempt to mislead him when haggling over the price of a boat. He managed the Oughterard tourist office, and edited the Oughterard Newsletter, with the latter also featuring Dick’s devilishly clever crosswords, published under the name “Strongbow”. His chosen ‘nom de plume’ was typical of the sort of arcane knowledge and word play that Dick reveled in (the original Strongbow’s first name was ‘Richard’ and his father’s name was ‘Gilbert’). This love of knowledge meant that we was frequently the ‘man of the match’ at hotly contested table quizzes in Breathnach’s Bar.
Inheriting a number of animals that came with the house at Boghall lead Dick to develop yet another area of expertise: the care and management of donkeys. His newfound knowledge was put go good use as a judge in the annual Oughterard show. He also threw himself into the organising and running of the show, as an active and valued member of the show committee.
Along with his mid-western drawl, Dick brought his love of music to his new home. His breadth and variety of his musical knowledge was tremendous, and he was as equally at home delivering a lecture on the works of Mozart as he was singing “The Frozen Logger” while accompanying himself on the guitar. He played the organ at the Church of the Assumption in Oughterard, and was a familiar sight, climbing the narrow steps to the choir loft each week carrying a briefcase bulging with sheet music and self-penned choral arrangements.
Dick faced every day with unending curiosity, honesty and integrity, all leavened with a wonderful dry wit. He lived by a strong personal code of justice and fairness, an embodiment of his Quaker faith. He leaves behind a wonderful legacy for his family and many friends on both sides of the Atlantic: to fill the world, and let the world fill you.
Dick passed away on Saturday 29th November 2014.