Capt. W. L. Pryor Jr., researcher for Navy

May 02, 1994|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,Sun Staff Writer

Capt. William L. Pryor Jr., who helped make history during his 31-year Navy career, died Wednesday of a cerebral blood clot at the Ginger Cove Retirement Community in Annapolis. He was 88.

The one-time naval researcher worked on the development of sonar, radar and nuclear-powered vessels during three decades as a Navy officer -- after washing out of flight school early in his career.

"He went through all the grueling training, but he couldn't get flight certification because of some problem with his eyes," said his son, Edward R. Pryor, 62, of Mystic, Conn.

"But in his usual way, he immediately signed up for another difficult rating."

It was 1929 when the young officer graduated from the Navy's Submarine School in New London, Conn., and was transferred to Hawaii, where he served aboard subs in the Pacific fleet for the next decade while his young wife tended to the couple's sons.

Captain Pryor had been introduced to his bride, Mary Day Rouse, in 1927 when he was at the Naval Academy and she was running an Annapolis nursery school. Within a year, they were married. The matchmaker was his mother, Alice Knight Pryor, who was a teacher at Annapolis High School and herself the daughter of an admiral.

Shortly before the United States entered World War II, the family returned to the East Coast in 1940, and Captain Pryor assumed command of the destroyer USS Semmes -- embarking on a path that would lead him into the development of new technologies in the years after the war.

Captain Pryor's ship, which was assigned to escort convoy ships to England through the German submarine gantlet in the Atlantic, was soon earmarked by the Navy as a test vessel for new radar and sonar devices emerging from research labs.

For the next three years, Captain Pryor's crew tested the Navy's new "bedspring" air radar and engaged enemy submarines on convoy patrols as the war heated up and the United States committed troops to Europe, his son said.

During the next 10 years, Captain Pryor completed advanced degrees at the U.S. Naval Academy postgraduate school and Harvard University, where he received a master's degree in communications engineering, and moved up through the Navy's research and development ranks.

He commanded the Navy's Underwater Sound Laboratory in New London -- where his photograph was the first picture transmitted underwater during testing of a new sonar device -- and was deputy chief of the bureau of ships for research and development in Washington.

Among his subordinates was Capt. Hyman G. Rickover, who would become one of the Navy's most celebrated admirals as "the father of the nuclear Navy."

Captain Pryor served as commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Yard at Yokosuka, Japan, and as commanding officer of shipbuilding scheduling in Philadelphia before mustering out in 1957. He later headed research and development at Rockbestos Products Corp. in New Haven and operations research for General Dynamics Electric Boat Division in Groton before returning to Annapolis for retirement.

"He was always very hard-working," his son said. "I can't ever remember us taking any vacations as a family because he was always working six, seven days a week. He took the occasional Sunday off, that was about it. Honesty, integrity and hard work. That was my father."

Mrs. Pryor died in 1966 after 38 years of marriage.

A forlorn Mr. Pryor went to a reunion of his 1926 Naval Academy class in Annapolis later that year and met Edith Carter, the widow of a classmate.

"He was a widower, and she was a widow," said Mr. Pryor. "They were married within a year."

She died last year.

Captain Pryor was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Newcomen Society of North America and the Army and Navy Club of Washington, D.C. He also belonged to the Mason's Island Yacht Club and St. Mark's Episcopal Church, both in Mystic, Conn.

A memorial service was set for 1 p.m. today at Ginger Cove Friendship Hall in Annapolis. He will be inurned at the U.S. Naval Academy Columbarium.

He is also survived by two other sons, William Lee Pryor III of New York City and James K. Pryor of Mystic.

Memorial donations may be made to the Mystic and Noank Library, Elm Street, Mystic, Conn. 06355.

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