In Memoriam: Gloria Chavez


by Charles "Gus" Potter, CHP, PhD

Gloria Elena Chavez, CHP, PhD, passed away at her home in Sandia Park, New Mexico, on 16 June 2017. She was 66 years old. Gloria was a fellow member of the Health Physics Society and an emeritus member since 2010, as well as a member of the Board of Directors from 1993 to 1996.

Gloria was born in El Tofo, near the Chilean coast, about 483 km north of Santiago. At age 9, she moved with her family to New Mexico, where she would have better educational opportunities than at her birth home. Her father passed away shortly after the move, leaving her as the translator for her mother. She attended the University of New Mexico, receiving a BS degree in biology and chemistry. Her strong background in the sciences led to an Atomic Energy Commission fellowship in the study of health physics. She attended Colorado State University, receiving an MS in health physics in 1974 and a PhD in environmental health physics in 1986. She was drawn to the field by its systematic scientific approach to multidisciplinary problems, and her capabilities in that approach served her well throughout her career in health physics and other activities.

From her MS graduation until 1979 she worked in many locations, including the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project in Grand Junction, Colorado; the Fort St. Vrain Generating Station in Platteville, Colorado; and at Idaho National Engineering Laboratory on various projects. In 1979, she began her 28-year employment at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Sandia has varied opportunities for individuals with multidisciplinary backgrounds, and Gloria's expertise and experience allowed her to fill many different roles. From 1979 to 1996, she practiced health physics in the environment, safety, and health programs. She led the radiation dosimetry program from 1979 to 1984, supporting underground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site and setting up Sandia's environmental dosimetry program. Following this, she became the manager of the Radioactive and Mixed Waste Management Program from 1984 to 1991, where she was part of the design of the waste facility and associated programs. From 1991 to 1996, she served the vice president of environment, safety, and health as ES&H coordinator, a position that oversees and advises operations across all safety disciplines.

From 1996 until the end of her Sandia employment in 2008, Gloria focused on national security and associated programs. This included supervision of nuclear facilities and associated quality control and assurance, development of security systems assessment methodology and associated assessments, and international initiatives following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, including work as a senior science advisor to the U.S. Department of State.

From 2007 until her death, Gloria served as president of Trinitek Services, Inc., a company that she began with her husband, Stan Fitch, also a health physicist. Together they worked on development and review of documentation and training and on provision of training. Entities they supported included the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Army, Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority, and other private clients.

In addition to these professional accomplishments, Gloria will be remembered as a lifelong Christian, loving wife, and mother to two sons.

It was my privilege to know Gloria over the last 25 years and to be a part of the great service she was devoted to throughout her life. She is truly missed by her family and the health physics community in Albuquerque and statewide.