Read more about Robert Fleagle on the Seattle Times website, or below as remembered by two former students and colleagues, Bob Brown and Nick Bond.

From Bob Brown, Research Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Sciences

I met Bob in 1966, when half his life was over; the learning half? He was involved in the new Geophysics graduate program and I became the first student in this PhD program. He became my advisor. He was intellectual, liberal, and quite laid back in general. For my PhD topic he showed me a beautiful picture of cloud streets off the Georgia coast and said “Explain me this for your thesis.”  OK. I came back a few years later with an elegant explanation. But in the meantime we met weekly and discussed politics and religion and other contemporary events. We didn’t communicate much on my complicated mathematical explanation of cloud streets, just enough for me to convince him that I knew something about what I was doing; or at least could sound professorial about it.

We played tennis a lot. I will always remember, as an example of “laid back”, one day I appeared for our meeting and his suggestion that we go play tennis right now. I got my racket and he drove us down to the few tennis courts by Hec Edmundson pavilion, a place where usually we would walk, since there were no parking spaces open nearby. Somehow he knew that there were spaces right next to the courts, clearly marked for the construction workers on the new stadium. But he drove right in, parked in the closest place to the courts. We played, I worried about a ticket but he didn’t, and retrieved the car without incident. I understood the attitude, that some rules were meant to be ignored? So I did it in my thesis, it worked, and he accepted it with aplomb.

I learned that guiding someone to a PhD meant more than just producing a thesis, it was teaching a disciple about a way of life. A couple of my PhD students (Bob’s grandPhDs) felt I learned this lesson well.

Marcia & I socialized often with Bob and Marianne; they lived a block from us.  Bob & I encouraged each other to never miss a day of biking to work. I had mixed emotions when he biked home late in a storm, in the dark, with inadequate lights (Bob was frugal about these things), ran into a blown down tree limb and broke his collar bone. But he soon got back on the bike routine.

I learned a lot from Bob, the least of which was the enjoyable science, the most about how to live a rewarding life.

From Nick Bond, Deputy Director of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean and Washington State Climatologist

I met Bob upon joining the Department of Atmospheric Sciences as a new graduate student in September 1980.  I had no idea he would be my mentor, but he had a significant influence on my decision to apply to the University of Washington in the first place.  Specifically, it was the textbook that he co-authored with Professor Joost Businger entitled “An Introduction to Atmospheric Physics” that really made up my mind.  I studied physics as an undergraduate and knew next to nothing about meteorology and atmospheric sciences except that I thought it interesting.  So I went to the library at the local state college and browsed the stack.  I noticed that a number of the atmospheric science textbooks had been written by faculty at the UW.  I was especially taken by the aforementioned text authored by Fleagle and Businger.  The prose was clear and at least the first few chapters covered topics with which I was familiar and comfortable.  I appreciated how the chapters were prefaced by apt quotations.  In particular, there is fair warning provided in this way for the chapter on turbulent transfers, which represents rather difficult material.  And I was struck by how he ended the book with a section on the atmospheric response to nuclear explosions.  The final paragraph illustrates Bob’s spirit and bears quoting in full: “In concluding our discourse on so dismal a subject as the effects of nuclear explosions no subtle symbolism is intended.  The all-encompassing atmosphere need not be destined to serve as the medium of transmission for man’s final inhumanity to man.”

While there is no question that Bob was a pacifist he was also no pushover.  I can personally attest to how competitive he was on the tennis court.  He and I were well matched even though I was more than 30 years his junior and a decent athlete.  He showed little mercy and evident delight in sending me back and forth across the court to try to reach his well-placed shots.  I understand he played lacrosse in his younger days, which speaks for itself.

Regarding Bob’s mentorship, a couple of aspects really stand out.  First and foremost, he allowed me to flail.  I would show him the results from an ill-conceived analysis of the field data I was using in my thesis and he would smile, and gently inquire about what I was trying to show.  The outcome was almost always some change in direction.  At the time I thought I was doing the steering, but after I was more on my own, I realized that was hardly the case.  Bob was a highly skilled writer.  He had to have been appalled at my early attempts to get thoughts down on paper.  But with his characteristic patience, good cheer and guidance, I did improve (there was probably no where to go but up).  He showed me that the writing is part and parcel with the science in a line of reasoning.  I continue to strive towards matching his standard for clear and effective exposition.

Bob also set an impossibly high bar in terms of service to atmospheric science, and for that matter, the scientific community as a whole.  In retrospect, I have no idea how he pulled it off.  I find it challenging to make just modest contributions of this sort.  Here again, I will always remember Bob as someone to emulate.

I close with an account of an exchange I had with him a couple of years ago.  At the time I had just taken on the duties of the climatologist for the state of Washington, and I did not know what I was doing.  His encouragement, and most of all assurance that I was qualified to take on this role and to trust my instincts, provided me with a needed boost that I will not soon forget.