Dr. Robert W. Deutsch, a retired nuclear physicist and successful business owner whose charitable foundation now works to assist artists, makers and entrepreneurs in Baltimore neighborhoods, died of dementia March 19 at his Boston home. The former Pikesville resident was two days short of his 95th birthday.
The mission statement of his Deutsch Foundation says it supports “innovative people, projects, and ideas that improve the quality of life in Baltimore and beyond.” One of its initiatives, Open Works, a Greenmount Avenue community fabrication space, was dedicated in his honor in 2016. His foundation also created the Motor House, an arts venue, on North Avenue.
Born in Far Rockaway, N.Y., he was the son of Nathan Deutsch, a Domino Sugar clerk and grocery store owner, and his wife, Lena Berger. He was a 1941 graduate of Flushing High School and took mathematics and physics courses at Queens College.
“My father witnessed the Depression and how difficult it was for his own father to make a living,” said his daughter, Jane Brown. “He had respect for people on the factory floor.”
He enlisted in the Army during World War II and was assigned to the Signal Corps and sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for additional study before going to Europe. After his military service ended, he returned to MIT to complete his degree. Interested in nuclear physics, he earned a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley in 1953.
After working in the nuclear power industry in several cities, he became a professor of nuclear science and engineer at the Catholic University of America and settled in Pikesville.
In 1966 he founded a firm, General Physics, to train employees of nuclear power plants. He began his venture in a small office in Edmondson Village and soon signed up electric power utilities and the U.S. Navy as customers as the atomic energy field expanded.
By 1988 he sold his share of the business for more than $18 million. But shortly after selling his interest in the business he created, the new owners replaced him. He was then 64 and ready to recast himself.
“But “Dr. D,” as he was known to his colleagues and friends, was not ready to retire just because his work at General Physics was done,” said a 2008 Sun profile. “Within the year, he founded RWD Technologies. He took new engineering and technological systems and demonstrated how they could assist existing industries.”
“At Chrysler and John Deere, RWD designed systems that enable dealership repairmen to use the Internet to tap into databases at the parent company for help when they're repairing cars and construction equipment,” said a 1998 Forbes article. His other clients included Steelcase and Dow Chemical.
His new businesses had offices at a research park at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of UMBC, said, “He was a broad thinker, a man who knew how to envision the possibilities. He was also our first tenant in our research park and was an early leader in seeing how a university can benefit the economy.”
“He loved his employees and realized they were his real assets when they walked out the door at night,” said his daughter.
After working another 20 years — he was now 84 — he told a Sun reporter, "If I can't contribute, I will retire. I'm comfortable that I could make my contributions RWD Technologies even though I'm old. I'm a lousy golfer anyway."
The article said he grew his business,RWD Technologies, to $221 million in revenues in 2008. He had 1,500 employees worldwide,
“Dr. D also found time to launch a successful career as a philanthropist. His initial interest was focused on advancing research and education in science and technology in Maryland’s public universities through the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation,” the article said.
Family members said he began with a modest amount of his personal wealth and sought promising ideas and innovative programs that would expand opportunities for others in Baltimore. He liked to stimulate new ideas and new ways of conducting business.
As a philanthropist, Dr. Deutsch began by giving $1 million to Goucher College to wire and make the Towson campus ready for the internet and the World Wide Web when they were little known.
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“As a scientist, he saw the internet coming earlier than most people,” said his daughter, Jane. “It was the last thing the trustees at Goucher wanted, but in time Goucher became the envy of small, liberal arts colleges.”
He also donated to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Towson University and the University of Maryland, College Park for work in bio-medical engineering.
His daughter said of his foundation, “We wanted to invest in Baltimore. We found you can’t change the world by just investing in universities. We turned our focus to the challenges of Baltimore City. My father never appealed to the big shots at the top. He liked to improve the lives of the the people doing the actual work. He wanted to know if they had the right tools to do their job well. If they didn’t, he wanted to change it.”
She said her father remained a modest man and lived in the same house for 53 years.
She said her father’s foundation, now located in Towson, is about to move into a building in the 2500 block of N. Charles St. in Charles Village. The renovated structure will bear her father’s name.
Services will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sol Levinson and Brothers, 8900 Reisterstown Road.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 69 years, Florence Kadish; a son, David Deutsch of Boston; and four grandchildren.