Robert W. Astrue 1928-2023
Image for Robert W. Astrue 1928-2023

With gratitude and deep sadness, we share the passing of Robert William Astrue on February 19, 2023. He taught Physics at Humboldt State University for over 35 years, and contributed uncommon talents, intelligence, and energy to this community. We will gather to remember him at Trinidad Town Hall on March 2, 2024 1 to 4pm. Bring a story and food or drink to share.

He was born February 2, 1928 at Stanford Hospital and grew up in the West Portal area of San Francisco. His dad was an engineer with Southern Pacific and his mom was a homemaker. In 1940 his dad brought Bob along with younger brother Jim on a road trip up 101 to the North Coast. The alignment of the highway was torturous, but our wild and gorgeous landscapes made a deep impression. To Jim’s disbelief, twelve-year-old Bob declared that he would live here some day.

Back at home, Bob & Jim shared a room and were close companions. They enjoyed recurring jokes and improvised comedy routines, football catch and other games. Bob also spent many hours at the local library and in the basement teaching himself chemistry (at times with explosive results). While today’s gifted children are more likely to be recognized and included, in that era they were often bullied and ostracized. In the words of one famous contemporary, “Being a bright child among your peers was not the best way to grow up in America”. The acceptance and humor he found with Jim sustained him during his entire life.

At Lowell High School, he thrived socially and excelled in languages and science and math. There were chess matches during lunchtime. Bob was recruited to serve as an usher at the War Memorial Opera House, with free admission to performances. He was transformed by this exposure, especially arias sung by Jussi Björling.

He followed the well-worn path from Lowell to UC Berkeley, where intellectual opportunities and his rebel nature led him toward academia. After 2 stints in the Navy, while working at the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC he met Virginia Vogt. They married in 1956. Daughters Mary and Margaret arrived while he pursued a Master’s degree at the University of Washington, followed by Elizabeth, Joseph, and Elaine during his PhD work at Wayne State University.

In 1966, he accepted a faculty position at Humboldt State College. The family of 7 piled into a Mercury station wagon and made the journey from Detroit to Arcata, fulfilling his promise to return. They settled in Sunny Brae, and he began teaching Thermodynamics, Electricity & Magnetism, and Quantum Mechanics, as well as self-designed courses The Science of Sound and later, The Conscious Universe. For an introvert who preferred doing research, he proved to be a gifted teacher.

To augment the family’s income, Bob started voice lessons with the idea of working with the SF Opera. In his 40s he began studying with Lee Barlow, developing a rich and beautiful bass voice. While paid gigs never materialized, for many years Bob sang lead roles with the Humboldt Light Opera Company and Humboldt Chorale.

Deeply affected by Jim’s untimely death in 1986 from glioblastoma, he embarked on a journey of self-discovery and reinvention, eventually marrying Terri Tinkham and moving to an off-grid property near Trinidad. They shared a rich and varied life together with many beloved animals. They made several treks to Europe, especially France,hiking portions of the Chemin de St. Jacques in the Pyrenees. Locally they loved backpacking in the Marble Mountains along with indoor winter pursuits like jigsaw puzzles and reading.

He believed fiercely in scientific observation and rigor, and at the same time understood the limitations of our capacity to understand. He was a voracious reader, life-long learner and collector of skills, and a student of history and politics. He loved good food, from the hard-boiled egg from his mom in his school lunch, to the Co-op’s Blackened Chicken Salad, to a fine meal with wine in France.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Charles James Astrue and Ida (Reinfeld) Astrue, older brother Charles Jr and younger brother James. He is survived by Terri Tinkham, children Mary Hamilton (Eric), Margaret Barrett, Elizabeth Astruc Roettingen, Joseph Astrue (Heidi), and Elaine Astrue (Danny Sokolsky), 10 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers or donations, please patronize our local independent bookstores.


Posted: Feb. 1, 2024

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