Richard H. Rowland

An aeronautical engineer who worked on the Mercury space program, he was active at Towson Presbyterian Church.

November 27, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Richard H. Rowland, a retired aeronautical engineer who was an active member of Towson Presbyterian Church, died Friday of Klatskin's tumor, a rare bile duct tumor, at his Baldwin home. He was 91.

Mr. Rowland, the son of a Baptist minister, was born in Westmont, N.J., and raised on the grounds of Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pa., and in Parker Ford, Pa.

After graduating from high school, he entered Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., where he earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics in 1938.

He worked for several years with the Presbyterian Ministers' Fund before enlisting in the Navy in 1942, where he was trained as a pilot.

He was stationed at a naval station in Belem, Brazil, and flew missions as a reconnaissance pilot over the South Atlantic during World War II.

After being discharged in 1945 with the rank of lieutenant commander, he remained a reservist until 1984.

Mr. Rowland moved to Baltimore in 1946 when he took a position as an aeronautical engineer at the old Glenn Martin Co. plant in Middle River.

Mr. Rowland, whose field of expertise was physical stress, was assigned to NASA's Project Mercury at the Martin Co., which developed the Mercury space capsule.

"We happen to know that he worked on Project Mercury and other rocketry projects, but much of his work was top-secret," said a daughter, the Rev. Nancy L. Rowland, pastor of New Castle Presbyterian Church, in New Castle, Del.

Mr. Rowland, who had lived at Mars Estates, the eastern Baltimore County community that had been built by the Martin Co. to house wartime workers, later moved to Towson.

He retired in 1982.

In 1954, he began a 54-year association with Towson Presbyterian Church, where he served as an elder, deacon and choir member. He regularly accompanied clergy in administering communion to the ill and shut-ins.

Mr. Rowland was known for his outgoing and ebullient personality.

"He really was something of a character and a little eccentric," Ms. Rowland said. "He liked the old-fashioned ways and was very polite and proper. And he was very particular in the way things were done."

The Rev. George Gray Toole, who was pastor of Towson Presbyterian for 26 since years until retiring in 2002, was an old friend.

"He was an old-fashioned gentleman who was very warm, personable and exceedingly mannerly. He also had a very dry sense of humor that was appreciated by many and could and would erupt spontaneously," Mr. Toole said.

"Because he was a minister's son, when I was reading the Scriptures, I'd look over and he was mouthing them," Mr. Toole said, laughing. "He really was a delightful gift to any minister. He was a good man, and it's a pleasure to celebrate him."

Mr. Rowland was especially fond of vintage jazz and big band-era music.

"I'd lead church tours to Scotland, England and the Holy Land, and I remember when we were in England, and we attended a vintage British musical hall performance and he so enjoyed himself," Mr. Toole said. "He just loved when they did the 'Lambeth Walk.' "

Mr. Rowland, who later moved to Baldwin, was an avid gardener who particularly liked growing cosmos because they were his wife's favorite flower.

He was a baseball and ice hockey fan and a model railroader.

"He worked in N-gauge and had a large basement layout that was modeled after the Pennsylvania Railroad," Ms. Rowland said. "And because he was such a perfectionist, it was never completed."

Mr. Rowland also liked entertaining.

"He was a mixer of delicious cocktails, especially daiquiris, and not the frozen variety, and Seagram martinis, which he enjoyed," Ms. Rowland said.

Another hobby of Mr. Rowland's was body surfing, and he continued to enjoy it until he was well into his 80s.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow at his church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave.

Also surviving are his wife of 63 years, the former Janice H. Connelly; three other daughters, Mary Anne Clisham of North Plainfield, N.J., Alice March of Baltimore and Laurie Smith of Towson; and four grandchildren.

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