Robert Samuel Irwin died peacefully at age 86 in Wilmington, Delaware, after a long illness on October 22, 2019. Robert was born in Holywood, County Down, Northern Ireland, to the late Lucinda Ann and George Irwin. He is also predeceased by his six older brothers and sisters (Winnie, Geordie, Madge, Charlie, Cecil, Willie). Cecil and Willie died fighting in the Royal Air Force during World War II.
Robert was raised in Craigavad, attended Upper Sullivan School and the Queen’s University of Belfast, where he earned his B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry. It was during these years that he first spied the prettiest girl he had ever seen – Anne Kensett (“Weetsie”) – whom he married in Bangor, Northern Ireland, on March 24, 1961.
Robert’s first introduction to the United States was at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, where he did a post-doctoral year as a Fulbright Scholar. He also became life-long friend and traveling companion with his German roommate there. He worked for a year in Cambridge, England, then with the Northern Irish Agriculture Department. He was recruited and hired by the E. I. DuPont de Nemours Company in the United Kingdom to come to the US, to Wilmington, Delaware, as a polymer research chemist.
He and Anne came to Wilmington in 1962, on prolonged temporary assignment, and moved back to Northern Ireland, to the Londonderry Maydown Plant immediately following the birth of their first daughter in 1967. While they were again happily close to family, the violent Troubles were beginning in Derry, pushing them to emigrate permanently to the US. It was always a priority, though, that his family would return to Northern Ireland annually. They always felt lucky, as well, to have a large social circle of British and other immigrant friends in the United States.
Robert spent the rest of his career with DuPont, at the Experimental Station in Wilmington, and retired as a Senior Research Fellow. He was a member of the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry. During his 34 years with DuPont, he was awarded 41 US patents and many more internationally. He was an expert on Kevlar and travelled many times to Europe (often taking his family along), as well as to India and Japan to speak.
After retirement, he stayed close to home, where he greatly enjoyed being with his grandchildren and walking his grand-dog. He always loved history, especially about World War II, and voraciously read and watched anything possible on the subject. He also enjoyed reading action and mystery novels and spent hours doing crossword puzzles and reading the newspapers.
He was a devoted husband and father throughout.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Anne Irwin; his daughter and son-in-law Siobhan Irwin and Chris Sontchi; his daughter Lorraine Irwin; grandsons, Jeremy and Andrew Sontchi; and granddaughters, Taylor and Sierra Modesto.
We extend our sincerest thanks to the caring staff at the Cove Memory Center and to our wonderful nurse and aide from Compassionate Care.
Donations welcomed to the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association – 399 Market St #102, Philadelphia, PA 19106; https://www.alz.org/delval/donate