In Memoriam: Richard Belanger


by Paul Pater, CHP

Richard Belanger, 58, a true ambassador for the health physics profession and highly regarded internal dosimetrist, passed away suddenly at his home in San Diego, California, on 8 April 2006.

His career in health physics was distinguished—his work respected among his peers and his contributions numerous. We have lost a proven leader, an educator, and a mentor. He was far too young, active, and health conscious to leave us so soon. He will be missed immensely.

Rich was born on 24 April 1947 in Manchester, New Hampshire, and moved to San Diego at age six. After serving in the military, he started college at San Diego State University (SDSU) and received his bachelor of science degree in biology in 1974. While studying radiation biology as an undergraduate, he developed an interest in health physics. Following a short discussion with Dr. Lester Skolil, then director of the Radiological Health Physics Program, he enthusiastically enrolled in the graduate program and soon earned his master of science in radiological physics in 1976.

His first professional health physics position was with Westinghouse Hanford Company as a nuclear safety and training engineer from 1977 to 1978. In late 1978 he accepted a senior scientist position at Science Application International Corporation (SAIC), bringing him back to San Diego. While at SAIC, he conceived and directed the development of the REMedyTM internal radiation dosimetry code. After 10 years at SAIC, he moved into the academic arena and accepted a position at SDSU as director of Environmental Health and Research Safety. In 1993 he retired from his position at SDSU and with his wife, Debbie, started a successful consulting company called Ryan-Belanger Associates. Rich's professional accomplishments over his 30-year career embody the diversity of his expertise. He authored more than 100 technical reports, papers, and publications, challenging concepts and principles in radiation dosimetry, environmental protection, regulatory compliance, and risk assessment. Most recently, his efforts were focused in medical radiation dosimetry in support of clinical testing of a novel radioimmunotherapy product.

Rich's devotion to the Health Physics Society (HPS) was tireless and undaunted, as illustrated by his active involvement in this community. He served as past-president, secretary, and treasurer of the San Diego Chapter, chair of the HPS Summer School Committee since 2003, and cochair of the 2003 HPS Local Arrangements Committee. He also served as a member of the HPS Strategic Planning Committee, the HPS Nominating Committee, and the American Board of Health Physics Panel of Examiners. In 2003 Rich served as the associate academic dean for the HPS Summer School, “University Health Physics," in San Diego. He thoroughly enjoyed recruiting speakers, planning the curriculum, and coediting the textbook.

As a guest lecturer for the SDSU Graduate School of Public Health since 1993, he introduced the concepts of radiation risk assessment to aspiring safety professionals. He taught several introductory applied radiation safety courses to the San Diego-area safety professionals through the University of California, San Diego Extension Program. Rich volunteered his skills and taught several graduate-level classes in radiological physics. Along the way, he mentored many young health physicists in their early careers. His humble, casual demeanor and warm approach enabled underclassmen and former students to frequently tap his wealth of experience and knowledge of health physics concepts.

Rich was a man of outstanding character and just a wonderful person to be around. It was a pleasure to have a cup of coffee and talk with him—about anything from politics to sports, science and, naturally, surfing. Rich's passion for surfing was only surpassed by his love for his family and friends. He had a weekend routine of an early morning breakfast with friends and out in the surf by 7 a.m. This gave him balance and a unique perspective of life. For years, Rich asked me to join him out in the water and last summer I finally took him up on the offer. I will treasure the many weekends spent together surfing, where the work discussions were fondly called “board meetings." Continually sharing his wisdom and providing guidance—whether it was health physics or which surf break was best—he was the consummate teacher. Rich was honored in the great surfing tradition with a “paddle out" at his favorite surf spot as a tribute to his life. While friends and family watched from shore, adorned in Hawaiian shirts, his surfing buddies scattered his ashes in the sea.

He is survived by his wife of many years, Debbie, and a daughter, Nicole, who is currently attending Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.