Richard D. King, 83, Navy commander, teacher

January 08, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Richard Duckett King, a retired Navy commander who flew nuclear weapons to aircraft carriers and later taught physics and oceanography at area schools, died Saturday of a lung disorder at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 83.

A resident of the Blakehurst Life Care Community in Towson, he formerly resided for 29 years in the Stoneleigh neighborhood.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Longwood Road in Roland Park, Cmdr. King was a 1937 graduate of Polytechnic Institute, where he was class president and captain of the wrestling team. He attended the Johns Hopkins University before receiving an appointment to the Naval Academy, from which he graduated in December 1941 and where he was also wrestling team captain.

"The Naval Academy was the perfect place for him. He was a real straight arrow, with a strong moral sense," said Gerald "Jerry" Miller of Oakton, Va., a retired senior vice admiral. "He was a competitive athlete who held strong opinions. In flight school, he was not content with just the stick and the rudder. He had a scientific bent and explored the fringe of the flight envelope."

Known as "Ace" throughout his naval career, Cmdr. King was initially assigned to duty on a destroyer in the Atlantic in the early months of World War II. He subsequently trained as a pilot in open-cockpit biplanes at the Dallas Naval Air Station.

Colleagues said he had excellent night vision and flew many after-dark missions. During his career he made more than 500 successful landings on aircraft carriers.

"Flying at night over the ocean with no points of reference visible is like flying in an ink bottle," said retired Vice Adm. William D. Houser, an academy classmate and friend from Alexandria, Va. "Ace would occasionally fly his plane up to 20,000 feet and cut off his engine to test the flight-glide ratio."

In the 1950s, Cmdr. King became a squadron commander based at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, Calif. He flew the Navy Fury-type jets which transferred atomic bombs from U.S. bases to aircraft carriers. After an assignment teaching physics at the Naval Academy, he became an instructor in military science at a naval ROTC program at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

He retired from the Navy in 1965 and then enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, earning a graduate degree in education.

He taught physics and military tactics at the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa. He then moved to Baltimore and taught oceanography at Anne Arundel Community College, and physics at Notre Dame Preparatory School and St. Paul's School for Boys.

Cmdr. King was a member of the South River Club, an Anne Arundel County social club.

He had been an elder, deacon and trustee at Second Presbyterian Church, whose former pastor, the Rev. Ernest Smart, noted that Cmdr. King also had been a generous -- and anonymous -- donor.

Services will held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Second Presbyterian, 4200 St. Paul St.

Survivors include his wife of 32 years, the former Elizabeth Long Doyle; three sons, Benjamin Weems King of Montpelier, Vt., Jonathan Phipps King and Dr. Richard D. King Jr., both of Pittsburgh; a daughter, Lucy Claibourne King, of Pittsburgh; two stepsons, Stephen Doyle of Norfolk, Va., and Fletcher Doyle of Buffalo, N.Y.; a stepdaughter, Lauren D. McCombs of Jacksonville, Fla.; three sisters, Mary Emily Smith of Philadelphia, Katharine B. Naylor of Baltimore and Margaret K. Warner of Princeton, N.J.; and 14 grandchildren. A stepdaughter, Leslie D. Bowen, died in 1993. His previous marriage to the former Jean Phipps ended in divorce.

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