The death of Robert P. Scripps of Fredericksburg, Texas on Oct. 18 at the age of 94 marked the end of an era for the founding family of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Bob Scripps, a grandnephew of Ellen Browning Scripps, was the last surviving grandson of E.W. Scripps. E.W. and Ellen, along with William Ritter, created the institution that bears the family’s name.
Bob’s father, Robert Paine Scripps, carried on the family tradition of support for Scripps Oceanography by twice increasing the family’s annual contributions, making it possible for Scripps Oceanography to survive the Great Depression. Bob himself became a noted philanthropist, supporting not only Scripps Oceanography but many other organizations and programs around the country.
Bob, the eldest of Robert Paine Scripps’s six children, was born and raised at Rancho Miramar north east of San Diego. He went to work for his family’s business in Cincinnati during the 1930s. He returned to Miramar before World War II where he met a young student at Scripps Oceanography, Walter Munk. Walter was dating Bob’s sister Peg. Walter recalls Bob as a sweet and very shy man.
Bob was drafted into the army in 1941, and was on a troop train headed for Washington when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Bob was sent to the Pacific where he fought on Guadalcanal, the Georgia Islands, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines. After the war, he moved to west Texas where he farmed and raised bees. That’s where he met his wife Mariana Rocha, and they began to raise their family of eleven children.
In addition to farming, Bob was also active in the family businesses and served as a director of The E.W. Scripps Company from 1949 until 1997. He was also an officer of The Edward W. Scripps Trust and the Scripps Howard Foundation which required him to make regular trips to Cincinnati. Bob reconnected with Scripps Oceanography in the 1970’s when Don Willkie, the director of the Scripps Aquarium, went to visit Bob in Texas. “Bob Scripps and his family have been supporters of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps from its conception,” said Willke. “He not only contributed funds for the new facility but also encouragement for those planning the project. We are fortunate to have had the support of his family in our efforts to provide public education in the tradition of the institution’s founding family.”
By that time, Bob and his family had moved to a ranch just outside of Fredericksburg, Texas, where Bob raised peaches and plums and worked in his machine shop with his sons. He was fascinated with steam engines, and he built several steamboats. In 1988, he took one of them to the inaugural Tall Stacks steamboat gathering in Cincinnati. Over the years, he enjoyed family outings with his boats on nearby lakes.
Representatives from Scripps Oceanography made several trips over the years to Fredericksburg to visit Bob and his family, and it was on one of those trips that then-Scripps Director Charles Kennel met with Bob to discuss plans for a new conference center to be named for Bob’s father. Bob and his family helped create the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society, and the Environment, and one of the Forum’s large conference rooms is named in Bob’s honor.
“Any man who restores steam engines with his own two hands is a pretty extraordinary guy,” said Kennel. “His mechanical talents would have made him an excellent faculty candidate, but instead he was a major supporter of our oceanographic institution and a friend of its directors, including me. The Scripps family has been faithful to its Institution of Oceanography for more than a century and no one more than Bob instilled in his own children and grandchildren his genuine curiosity about what ‘their’ ocean scientists were doing. Their warm and intelligent support is more than any director could ask for.”
In recent years, Bob was a loyal supporter of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps’s education programs. Birch Aquarium Executive Director Nigella Hillgarth spoke fondly of Bob’s concern for young people: “It was a privilege to know Bob. His concern and vision for connecting children to the world of science and the ocean deeply impressed me. Many of our education programs, especially those in under-served communities would not have happened without his support. I will never forget his help and concern for the children.”
Bob Scripps was a big man in more ways than one. He had strength of character, gentleness, and generosity that will be sorely missed.
– Lawrance Bailey