Gibson, Richard E (Dick)
Aug 22, 1929 – Sep 10, 2018
Died on Monday in Omaha from complications from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 89.
He is remembered as a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, and companion. Dick’s decency, intelligence, and openness to new experiences left an indelible impression on those he worked with and the family he raised. Though he passed away just miles from his place of birth, he forged an uncommon life spanning several professions and touching countless lives on many continents.
Richard Ernest Gibson was born in Omaha to Rodney and Romain Gibson (nee Dickinson), and was the eldest of three children. Dick grew up mostly in Omaha, but Rodney’s career as a civil engineer also took the family to brief residencies in places such as Lincoln, NE and Minden, NE. As a teenager, he also spent extended visits with relatives in Nebraska’s western panhandle where he developed a life-long enthusiasm for horses and cattle farming (and movies set in the Old West). His youth was filled with pastimes of that era, including forming a “Superman” club with friends and eagerly following the island-hopping campaign of US forces across the Pacific theater the way boys in other times may have followed baseball box scores or online games. He would later say that the Second World War was the biggest disappointment of his life at the time – because it ended before he could serve his country.
He graduated from Omaha’s North High School in 1947, but while still a teenager he met (on a blind date) Thyra Dobson of Benson. They married on March 29, 1948, embarking upon a 63-year romance and partnership over which they would raise five children and move 32 times, living in seven U.S. states and five different countries.
Dick briefly attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before receiving a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Kansas in 1952 and a master’s degree in structural engineering from the University of Illinois in 1955. He served as an Air Force officer from 1952 to 1958, living for two years in Taiwan as an advisor to the Nationalist Chinese Air Force. Over the course of his career, he worked at various civil engineering firms in Kansas City and Omaha, including Kirkham, Michael, and Associates (1959-64) where he managed major improvements at Eppley Airfield in Omaha and the construction of interstate highways in Oklahoma.
It was as professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO), however, that Dick reached the pinnacle of his engineering career and also discovered a second career beyond engineering. Starting in 1964, he held a series of teaching positions that culminated in becoming Chairman of the Civil Engineering Department and President of the Eastern Nebraska chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers. Along the way, he earned a Ph.D. in structural engineering from the University of Colorado in 1969, publishing his thesis on the behavior of unsymmetrical multi-storied buildings during earthquakes.
In 1974, Dick was asked to lead an advisory team of nine University of Nebraska professors who assisted Kabul University in Afghanistan under a contract with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The project continued for almost four years and was central to the founding of UNO’s Center for Afghanistan Studies under the leadership of Thomas Gouttierre, who became a close professional colleague and lifelong friend.
Following Kabul, Dick went on to lead additional USAID funded projects on behalf of Transcentury Corporation, based out of Washington, DC. From 1979 to 1984, he led an 11-person team posted in eight locations across Indonesia charged with assisting in the construction of 1,200 roads, irrigation, canals, and flood control facilities each year using labor-intensive methods to absorb rural unemployment. From 1984 to 1987, he led a project in northwest Somalia to provide employment and infrastructure for refugees fleeing famine and civil war in Ethiopia. Starting in 1989, Dick returned to UNO to briefly lead and later consult on an educational assistance project based in Pakistan.
Throughout his life, Dick was defined by an openness to change and a passion for learning. Though never a pilot in the Air Force, he began piloting small planes in his 40s. He became conversant in Spanish in his 30s, Farsi in his 40s, and Bahasa Indonesia in his 50s. He was unafraid to reexamine long-held beliefs. In seeing firsthand the practical benefits of public assistance abroad, for example, he experienced an evolution in his belief as to its efficacy at home. He came to believe that well-managed assistance programs were capable of helping people in need and in harmony with his growing Christian faith.
In retirement, Dick and Thyra lived in and near Bolivar, MO for more than a decade where they raised cattle and were very active in the St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. They also built a large home that served as a central gathering point for generations of Gibsons to experience the pleasures of farm chores, water skiing, horseback riding, and Thyra’s holiday feasts. After Thyra died in 2012, Dick returned to live in Omaha while continuing to travel frequently to landmark family occasions, dancing this past January at a granddaughter’s wedding in California and traveling in May to St. Louis for a grandson’s college graduation. Several years ago, Dick began to grow closer to Laura Beth Barr, who had been a family friend over the course of four decades. The two formed a loving relationship that was filled with laughter and brought great joy to them and those around them.
Dick was preceded in death by Thyra, his sister, Jean (d. 1946), daughter, Teri (d. 2013), son, Richard E., Jr. (Rick) (d. 2014), and sister Romain (Sally) (d. 2017). He is survived by Laura Beth, three children, Rodney Gibson and wife Alice of Fresno, CA, Cathy Gibson-Beltz and husband Steve of Lincoln, NE, and John Gibson and wife Karen of Washington, DC; daughter-in-law Toni Gibson; many nieces and nephews; seven grandchildren, Eyrick, Cheryl, Rebecca, Ryan, Lyndsey, Joshua, and Rachel; and four great-grandchildren, Cameron, James Patrick (JP), Reese, and Kerrigan, with a fifth, Connor, expected in October.
He is also survived by his near-blind, ever-loyal dog, Mimi, the last in a nine-decade succession of animal companions who, like people, were instinctively drawn to Dick’s kindness, confidence, and love. Dick’s decency and determined spirit will long endure in the memory of those who knew him, and we will never forget the sparkle in his eyes and the calming welcome in his voice.
MEMORIAL SERVICE Saturday, September 22nd at 1 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church, 9302 Blondo. The family will be receiving from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Scott Conference Center, 6450 Pine St., Scott Café North Dining Room.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made to St. Albans Episcopal Church, 201 S. Killingsworth Ave., Bolivar, MO 65613.