In Memoriam: Donald Ray Alexander


by Keith J. Schiager, CHP

Donald Ray Alexander, retired manager of Radiation and Environmental Safety at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, quietly passed away on 9 July 2006, in Salem, Oregon, after a decline of several years due to Alzheimer's disease.

Don was born on 19 April 1934 in Borger, Texas, to Doris Wilson McBride and Donald Willard Alexander, both of whom preceded him in death. He married his best friend and the love of his life, Anne Rittenhouse, in 1954.

After attending public schools in Borger, he received his BS in geology from Texas Tech University and his MS in math and science (on a National Science Foundation scholarship) from New Mexico Highlands University. He extended his education with summer classes at Stevens Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University, again studying physics and math.

Don taught high school physics, chemistry, geometry, trigonometry, and slide rule in Stinnett, Texas. He held an assistant professorship in physics and mathematics at Upper Iowa University, during which time he was also active as a Boy Scout leader and faculty advisor for the Beta Sigma Phi Fraternity. His involvement with the Boy Scouts continued with all three of his sons.

Don's career as a health physicist began while pursuing his PhD in radiation biology from Colorado State University (CSU). His doctoral research was on the internal distribution of inhaled radon progeny. This involved many hours underground in uranium mines in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico collecting aerosol data in cooperation with several other graduate students. These colleagues remember Don's distaste for this underground work, but his real Texan's taste for the Mexican food ubiquitous to the area. He would spice up his meals with hot peppers far in excess of the comfort levels of his colleagues and even the Hispanic locals.

While at CSU, Don also worked part-time as radiation safety officer at the University of Wyoming. This was followed by employment at the Fort St. Vrain nuclear generating station in Colorado. He ultimately took a position as manager of Radiation and Environmental Safety at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where he worked until his retirement in January 1995. Wherever he lived, Don was active in the local chapters of the Health Physics Society.

In addition to his scientific interests and technical work, Don maintained a well-rounded cultural and spiritual life. He was a lifelong lover of fine music . . . especially opera. He used to quote from OPERA American's Profiles: ". . . opera is the melding of all these (art) forms into one magnificent whole. A superlative production of great operatic work can be the most powerful and exalting experience in the performing arts world." He not only loved to hear and see live operatic performances, but he also loved being a part of such live performances. He sang in many productions with the Idaho Falls Opera Theatre and twice served as the organization's president. He and Anne were regulars at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, the Salt Lake Opera, and as many live theatrical and symphonic performances as they could fit in wherever they lived. Throughout his life, he sang in school, college, and church choirs and quartets, as well as in musicals and theater productions.

Don was active in the Unitarian church and served as "lay minister" in several churches in Texas and filled the pulpit in Idaho Falls on several occasions. He had passed up the opportunity to attend theological school early in his career but maintained a lifelong close touch with his developing spirituality.

After his retirement in 1995, he and Anne tackled with gusto a lifetime dream and traveled to many of the U.S. national parks, Africa, Mexico, China, Tibet, Australia, and New Zealand.

Don is survived by his wife Anne and their three sons (who were always his "first" job, with everything else following): William Dean Alexander of Estes Park, Colorado; Mark Wayne Alexander (Ann) of Fountain Hills, Arizona; and Donald Ralph Alexander (Karla) of Salem, Oregon. His six grandsons (Ian, Kyle, Eric, and William Alexander and Shane and Kelly Collins) will miss him tremendously. One sister, Barbara Ann Trice (Richard), lives in Ft. Worth, Texas. A brother, David Wayne Alexander, preceded Don in death in 1998.