Sky Scene 07

Richard Otis

October 9, 1944 ~ February 28, 2021 (age 76)


Richard “Dick” Otis of Madison, Wisconsin, died February 28, 2021, of Alzheimer’s disease. He was born October 9, 1944, to Chuck Otis and Janet Botts Otis, both Madison natives. He was younger brother of Peggy and Elinor. Dick grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, near the University of Minnesota campus. In his youth, he was a swimmer, photographer and avid rockhound.

Dick earned his BS in geophysics from the University of Minnesota in 1966. In 1965, he was part of SCOPE, the Summer Community Organization and Political Education program in Fort Valley, Georgia, which assisted people in registering to vote. This experience had a profound effect on him and helped further shape his moral compass. He knew he grew up privileged and believed in giving back.

In 1967, Dick joined the Peace Corps. He served two years in the arid Turkana region of Kenya.  His task was to organize and supervise a team which installed freshwater wells and pipelines throughout the district. He valued his experience in Kenya and credited it for shaping his character and determining his future career path.

Following the Peace Corps, Dick earned an MS in Sanitary Engineering and a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from UW-Madison. During his time at UW, he met life-long friends, future business partners and future wife, Barbara Lee, who he married in 1981.

Dick traveled constantly as a consulting engineer. He was known as the guy who asked for nothing and gave everything. Dick devoted his time to mentoring others within his industry and encouraging everyone to be stewards of the environment. He wrote policies and standards for the EPA, worked with the World Health Organization in Brazil, often testified as an expert witness, and was involved in multiple research studies. Dick received many awards throughout his career and was appreciative of the recognition but felt the accolades were unnecessary. A humble man, Dick lived by the philosophy that there would be no limit to the good we could do if we didn't care who got the credit. In the words of his sister Peggy: “Dick was gifted, smart, inventive, capable, thoughtful, kind and humble. He led a productive life and contributed to a greater world.”  

In 2006, Dick became involved with UW-Madison’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB). He traveled with students once to El Salvador and four times to Kenya. His fluency in Swahili from his Peace Corps days was a useful asset. Dick loved his time spent with EWB and was very proud of the students’ work.

Despite his time working and traveling, Dick always made time for his family. He cherished his wife, Barbara, and children Charley and Joanna. He never missed a swim meet and often took his children on adventures, whether it be hiking, camping, bouldering, and of course, always rock hunting. Dick got a kick out of Barbara’s Mondovi family, especially her siblings Chuck and Bob.

We will forever miss you, dad. You were a remarkable a man who inspired us to be the best versions of ourselves. We thank you for all you gave back to this world and for your humor, playfulness, wisdom and patience. We love you and it is not logical (your favorite word), that you’ve been taken from us too soon.

Thank you to all the wonderful staff at Agrace Hospice in Fitchburg, WI, for providing such excellent care to Dick and his family over the past six months. A very special thank you to Robyn Shearer, LPN, who helped us through many difficult times over the past two years. Alzheimer’s is a thief.

A celebration of Dick’s life will be planned in the coming months. The family suggests memorials be may be made to Engineers Without Borders-UW Madison or the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

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