Dick Morgan was born in Long Beach, California to George and Marion Morgan. They had already lost a baby boy so their baby Richard was especially treasured. He was their only child. His mother doted on him and raised him with all the advantages she could afford. His father was a salesman so the family moved around the country a lot and struggled through the Depression like so many others at the time.
He spent a year in New York City as a small boy. His father has children by a previous marriage living in New York and he met his much older sisters and brother for the first time. He couldn’t remember meeting them but his sister Vivienne recalled being surprised by the little boy with his bright red hair. Marion embraced her step-children (their mother had died by then) and they cherished her and their new little brother.
Dick didn’t have pleasant memories of New York, though. He recalled being terrorized by street gangs that would chase him home from school. He was glad when the family moved back to California.
His father was an avid fisherman so they spent many summers at Convict Lake in the Sierra Nevada. Thus began a lifelong love of the High Sierra mountains, camping, backpacking, and wilderness adventure.
The family lived near Hollywood for awhile. Marion loved movies and they went almost every week-end to see the latest films. When she heard MGM was holding auditions for “Huckleberry Finn” she took little Ritchie to the studio. The casting director asked to talk to him alone in his office. He said, “Son, do you really want to be an actor?” Richie said “No”. The casting director escorted him out and explained to his disappointed mother that he just wasn’t right for the part.
Richie attended several schools throughout the Los Angeles area and that one year in New York. After his first year of high school in Los Angeles his mother insisted they settled down in one place. His parents bought a motor court (precursor to the motel) on the Rogue River outside Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Dick enjoyed his years at Grant’s Pass high school. He played violin in the band. By this time he was 6’2” and recruited for the football team. His only complaint about his high schools years was that he was first on the school bus in the morning and last off at the end of the route every day.
After high school Dick started at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) in Corvallis. He had spent his childhood tinkering with Rube Goldberg models, soapbox derby cars, and taking apart clocks, toasters, and anything else he could get hold of. So it was natural that he would one day major in engineering. The war was on and by this time his parents had moved to Washington to help build Liberty ships in the Vancouver shipyards. Dick spent his summers working there.
Marion had ambitions for her son that went beyond their life in the rural Pacific Northwest and encouraged him to enroll at the California Institute of Technology. When Dick arrived he was told that none of his credits from OAC would transfer so he would have to start over as a freshman. Undaunted, he graduated from Cal Tech in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He played left tackle for the Caltech Beavers.
By this time engineers were being aggressively recruited to help design rockets for nuclear warheads. Dick was soon working at North American Aviation developing rocket technology, where he met and was smitten with a brilliant and pretty analyst named Mary Sherman. They married in 1951. By 1962 they had four children.
Although Dick had a great career at Rocketdyne (a spin-off of NAA in 1955) his true love was automobiles. He bought a brand new Volkswagen Beetle in 1953 which he tinkered on and souped up to 75 horsepower. He wrote one of the very first books on hot-rodding VW’s: “Souping the Volkswagen”, published in 1960. In the early 70s he started racing a Jaguar at Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats and came within a fraction of a second of breaking a land speed record for his class of engine.
He often bought old cars with the intention of restoring them. There were usually 6 or 7 cars in the driveway, the garage, on the back patio waiting for restoration. He was always working on one or another on week-ends and evenings.
When he wasn’t tinkering on cars or working up a new invention he would be helping his sons build large scale rockets in the garage and launch them in the desert as amateur rocket engineers.
Dick and Mary loved to travel, camp and backpack, and having 4 kids in tow never slowed them down. As soon as a child was ready to hike (at 4 or 5 yrs old) they hit the trails. Many summers were spent camping and backpacking in Yosemite. Alternate years were spent at the other great natural wonders all over the western United States. In 1976 they and their 2 daughters drove across the country to Washington DC for the Bicentennial. In the early 80’s they were among the first American tourists to visit mainland China. And they later toured Europe in a rented motor home, seeing the great sites of the continent, like the Fiat Museum in Italy.
After the success of the Apollo program, Dick switched departments and began developing renewable energy sources in the form of solar energy. He designed the energy storage system for the Solar I plant built outside Barstow, California.
When federal money for the solar program dried up after the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, Dick decided to forge his own path in energy conservation and research. He and Mary founded their own company, American Energy Consultants. The business was a great success as California was passing stricter regulations for energy conservation. They became the foremost experts in Title 24 energy code.
When Mary developed COPD Dick took care of her until she died in 2004. He was devastated but still did not retire. While recuperating from a broken hip 2010 he met a caregiver who gave him a new lease on life. He married Mercy and spent the last four years of his life with her. She made him very happy.
Dick was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just weeks before he died on June 3, 2014. As he requested he was buried holding one of his beloved model cars.
He is survived by his beloved wife Mercy, his four children, George Morgan, Steve Morgan, Monica Felo Weber, and Karen Morgan Newe and their spouses. He also is survived by fifteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He will be greatly missed.