On behalf of Yellowstone National Park, the staff of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center (HRC) would like to mark the passing of Robert W. “Bob” Flather on Sunday, January 27th, in Santa Barbara, California.
Bob was born in 1925 in Nashua, New Hampshire. He and his family relocated to Indiana during his childhood after the decline of the family business, Flather Lathes. Bob attended Phillip Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He enrolled in the ROTC when he was in Princeton University and served as an enlisted man with the Marines. As a Marine, Bob participated in the Pacific invasion of Okinawa in WWII. When he came home from his tour of duty, he enrolled in the electrical engineering master’s program at Stanford University. After graduation, Bob worked at Hughes Aircraft until Yellowstone called.
Bob started his NPS career in the park in 1971 as a fire guard (today’s wildland fire crew) in the fire cache. He worked as an LE ranger at Old Faithful, starting in 1972. Bob was on call and responded to the tragic death of Harry Walker in 1972 in the Old Faithful area. In the mid-70s Bob received a Lee Commission. At that point he started a near ten year run as a backcountry patrol ranger in the Upper Lamar area until 1982.
Bob once said he would have “chucked it all” if he had known about backcountry work in Yellowstone 20 years earlier. His interest in backcountry management was legendary and he was determined to curb the illegal elk antler trade and its associated poaching and trafficking of wildlife parts. He could swear like the ex-Marine he was and hated the notion of resource thefts from national parks. He went to extraordinary effort and sacrifice to protect Yellowstone. He was directly and indirectly responsible for the apprehension and conviction of many resource violators.
Between seasons Bob returned to California for the winter. He pioneered surfing in southern California and, by his own account, was the first person to surf a 14 foot board there. He enjoyed returning to California each winter to surf and play beach volleyball.
In 1982, at age 57, Bob began his volunteer service in the Tower area of the park. He had a brief hiatus from volunteering when he worked in fee collection in the 1990s, but he soon returned to volunteering, this time in the Yellowstone Fire Cache. He helped to pinpoint the locations of several culturally significant backcountry cabins where the cache could focus their efforts in the case of a wildland fire.
Bob’s HRC volunteer career began in 2003 and he came back every summer through 2012. Notable projects with the HRC staff were identifying people and places in the museum’s photo collection, specifically a set of subject specific albums begun as a CCC project and carried through the 50s, and identifying the Bannock Indian Trail.
Bob’s steel-trap memory and accuracy with dates made him invaluable to staff as well as the many researchers he helped. He will be sorely missed.