Robert L. Dwight

Robert L. Dwight ( )

Robert Lenox Dwight, a retired engineer who founded the National Electronics Museum and was active in the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Cylburn Arboretum, died of pneumonia March 22 at Baywoods of Annapolis. He was 91 and had lived on Gibson Island.

Born in New York City, he was the son of Maitland Dwight, an attorney, and Lydia Butler Dwight, a homemaker. After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, he entered Princeton University in 1941. Following Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy and entered its V-12 education program. He studied engineering at Cornell University and attended midshipman's school at Columbia University. At Cornell, he built a vehicle smiliar to a go-kart, which he called the Dwightmobile, and obtained his private pilot's license, family members said.

Mr. Dwight received a medical discharge from military service and earned an engineering degree at Princeton and a master's degree in mechanical engineering.

A daughter, Linda Dwight of Whidbey Island, Wash., said the mechanical engineering course was new and had three students. One of Mr. Dwight's classmates was Lee Iacocca, who later became an automobile executive. He then received a master's degree in applied mechanics from Harvard University.

His daughter said he then joined the Sperry Gyroscope Co. on Long Island, N.Y., were he worked on the design of the autopilot for the B-47 bomber.

Friends said he kept that autopilot patent under the glass on his desk for many years.

In 1951, he joined General Precision Laboratories in Pleasantville, N.Y., where he worked on the design and production of the first airborne use of Doppler radar for the B-52 long-range jet bomber.

Mr. Dwight married Nancy Lewis Perry in 1948. In 1954, he moved with his family to Gibson Island when he was named manager of administration at Westinghouse's Air Arm Division.

He was part of the administration at Westinghouse when co-workers produced a space camera used in a moon walk.

"At one point, the camera failed to function, and the instruction the astronauts received was: 'Ground control says hit it with a hammer.' This was later memorialized by cartoonist [Richard Q.] Yardley of The Baltimore Sun," his daughter said.

She said that her father organized an airborne radar display showing old, current and new models of radar equipment at a 1973 family day event.

Some 20 years later, when one of his employees enthusiastically described these historic displays, Mr. Dwight envisioned a museum for avionics equipment. Now called the National Electronics Museum, it was incorporated in 1980 and opened in 1983. The museum is located in Linthicum Heights.

"He was the founder and the catalyst of the museum," said its director, Mike Simons of Frederick. "He was a no-frills guy, but he had his passions. He was our major funder. He treated the museum like a job. Until he stopped driving, he came in every day."

Mr. Simons said Mr. Dwight approached the museum as a learning tool and found products that Westinghouse created.

"His mission was to introduce them to the general public, especially students," Mr. Simons said.

Mr. Dwight was the museum's curator and served as its president until 1997. He sat on its board of directors through 2003.

"He could describe every object there, including from whom it was acquired, how it worked, and why it was important," his daughter said.

In 2000, the museum established the Robert L. Dwight science scholarship for a student at the University of Maryland's College Park or Baltimore County campuses.

Mr. Dwight was an avid shorebird watcher and shell collector who explored beaches in a jeep and a World War II surplus amphibious truck. He also camped with his family. He first visited Assateague Island in the 1950s.

"At that time, it seemed that the island would be developed privately, but in 1962 a major storm damaged most of the existing dwellings," his daughter said.

After the Assateague Island National Seashore was established in 1965, he worked with environmental advocates to curb further development. Mr. Dwight was a former board member and long-term supporter of the Assateague Coastal Trust.

Mr. Dwight called each of five children on Sunday mornings by saying, "Good morning, good morning, good morning." He also was accustomed to saying as he downed a favorite adult beverage, "This will brighten the eye, quicken the pulse, and restore the viscosity to the bloodstream."

In 2004 Mr. Dwight learned that Northwest Baltimore's Cylburn Nature Museum, housed in the upper floors of the Cylburn Arboretum Association's mansion, was about to close because of an accessibility lawsuit.

"After visiting Cylburn, he funded the first renovation of space in the Carriage House, in which 250 bird specimens of the Baltimore Bird Club's birds of Maryland collection are now exhibited," his daughter said. He later financially supported expansion of the Carriage House with an eye toward accommodating all the contents of the Nature Museum.

A life celebration will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. May 29 at Gibson Island Point on Gibson Island.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include three sons, Robert Dwight Jr. of Boulder, Colo., and James Dwight and John Dwight, both of Seattle, Wash.; another daughter, Jane Dwight Seibert of Baltimore; and three grandchildren. His wife, Alice Heasley Dwight, died in 2000. His marriage to Nancy Perry Cooke ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com