In Memoriam: Richard Vincent Osborne


by R.G.C. McElroy, PhD

Richard V. Osborne, PhD, passed away on 29 September 2015 in Deep River, Ontario, Canada, at the age of 79 years. Richard is survived by his wife Nancy, three sons, and seven grandchildren. His family, his friends, his colleagues, and the international radiation protection community have lost a major presence—a good friend, a great scientist, and a tireless worker.

Richard was born in Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, England, where he met Nancy, his wife of 56 years. Richard received his BA with honors in natural sciences from Cambridge University in 1959, after which he undertook postgraduate research with Professor W.V. Mayneord at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, gaining his PhD in biophysics from London University in 1962. He accepted a research fellowship from the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the New York Medical Center. He and Nancy then immigrated to Canada, settling in Deep River, Ontario, with Richard taking a position as research officer in the Health Physics Branch of the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL). In 1981 he was appointed manager of the Environmental Research Branch. In 1988 he accepted a special assignment as executive assistant to the president of the AECL Research Company in Ottawa. In 1989 he returned to Chalk River as director of health sciences with responsibility for AECL's research programs in health physics, environmental research, and radiation biology. He chaired the AECL Health and Environment Working Group and also served on AECL's Safety Review Committee and the AECL Environmental Panel. For the period 1991–1994, he was also responsible for all of AECL's safety and health protection programs. He retired from AECL in 1998 and went on to establish Ranasara Consultants, focusing on radiological protection. He remained professionally active until shortly before his death.

Richard's early research and papers were on the behavior and measurement of natural radioactivity in the biosphere. Later he led a research and development program on tritium health physics, which resulted in many papers on topics ranging from biokinetics through instrumentation to operational protection. In his work for various agencies, he has been responsible for writing and editing many reports on the practical application of radiological protection principles. His work has been extensively recognized internationally.

Richard received the Elda E. Anderson Award of the Health Physics Society in 1975, served as a member of the Society's Board of Directors from 1976 to 1979, was the Society's G. William Morgan Lecturer in 1992 and the Robert S. Landauer Lecturer in 2004, and was named a fellow of the Society in 2005.

He founded and was first president of the Canadian Radiation Protection Association (CRPA) in 1979, was the first recipient of CRPA's Founders Award in 1989, and was awarded a life membership in 2008. He was vice president of the International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA) from 1992 to 1996. Richard served on Committee 4 (Application of the Commission’s Recommendations) of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) from 1980 to 1993 and from 1997 to 2001 when he was vice-chairman of that committee. In 1989 he chaired the ICRP Task Group on Radon in Buildings. From 1997 to 2001 he also chaired the ICRP working party on controllable dose.

Richard worked with committees and advisory groups of the Nuclear Energy Agency (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in Paris, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements in the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency (including the Radiation Safety Standards Advisory Committee), and various Canadian agencies, including the Advisory Committee on Radiological Protection of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. He was a member of the U.S. National Research Council's Committee on Radiological Safety in the Marshall Islands. He was the Canadian representative to United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation in 1996 and 1997, and in 1997 he was the task leader for Tritium Safety and Environmental Effects for the International Energy Agency Implementing Agreement on Environmental, Safety, and Economic Aspects of Fusion Power. In the late 1990s he served as a member of the Research Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan.

In 2012 Richard was awarded the IRPA Rolf M. Sievert Award and became the only person to have been awarded both the Sievert Award and the Elda E. Anderson Award.

Richard also enjoyed a full life outside of work with his family and the local community. The early summers in Deep River were filled with hosting visits from English relatives and with many family camping trips, including trips to both the east and west coasts of Canada. Much of his free time was spent supporting and participating in his sons' various athletic, musical, and academic endeavors.

As a citizen, Richard was active in the local community, participating in the Deep River Cricket Club, Yacht and Tennis Club, Ski Club, and Lawn Bowling Club. He served on the Deep River Planning Board and volunteered at the Deep River Library.

As a scientist, his work was respected and recognized internationally. He was an exemplary scholar and advocate for radiation protection. His extensive committee work helped advance radiological protection both nationally and internationally.

As a manager and mentor, he was approachable, friendly, and fair. Richard's tenure as director of health sciences was during a period of significant fiscal challenge for AECL and for its research activities in particular. Most of the division's programs were consequently at risk. But they not only survived, they flourished (including the construction of the Chalk River Biological Research Facility) under his leadership. Through those difficult times he retained the trust and respect of his staff and left the division stronger than when he inherited it.

He was one of the nicest people that you would ever have the pleasure of knowing. He is deeply missed.