In Memoriam: Warren E. Witzell


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of retiree Warren Edward "Whitey" Witzell in Falmouth July 21, 2001, after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.

Warren Edward Witzell was born July 2, 1923, in Wildwood, New Jersey. He graduated from Wildwood High School in 1941 and went to work at the Glen Martin Aircraft Company in Bainbridge, Maryland. In late 1941, he was accepted in the steam turbine training program at Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Company in Philadelphia. Two years later Whitey enlisted in the U.S. Navy for service in World War II. After completing basic training at the U.S. Naval Training Station in Bainbridge, he was sent to the Naval Diesel School as a motor machinist. He was soon given orders to the U.S. Naval Air Station at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, where he worked in support of naval aircraft training for carrier duty. He was later assigned to an air/sea rescue boat based in Quonset. Since much of the pilot training was conducted off Martha's Vineyard over Nomans Land, the boat was berthed in Woods Hole.

During his tour of duty in Woods Hole, he married Grace Kenerson. They decided to remain in Woods Hole when Whitey's naval service ended in 1945, and he found positions at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, now the National Marine Fisheries Service, as a fish culturist and guard/mechanic between 1945 and 1947.

Whitey joined the Institution staff in 1946 as a fireman in the heating plant and soon served as second assistant engineer aboard the Research Vessel Mentor. The temporary positions turned into a full-time position as night janitor in August 1951. In February 1952 Whitey transferred to the Institution's technical staff. He was appointed a Research Associate in 1963 and Research Specialist in 1974.

In his capacity as Research Associate, he was involved in the electro-mechanical design of towed underwater "fish" and the design of mechanical handling gear for shipboard use. One of his major contributions to the expansion of tools created for oceanography at that time was his development of the Precision Graphic Recorder (PGR), a sophisticated echo-sounder, which was used to search for the lost U.S. nuclear submarine Thresher. He was also trained to handle and detonate explosives used for seismic research.

In 1974 Whitey was promoted to Research Specialist in charge of the Geology and Geophysics Department's Electro-Mechanical Shop, supervising all work for the department as well as other service work for the Institution. The position required extensive travel throughout the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, the Red Sea and passage through the Suez Canal. During his 38 years at the Institution he acquired four patents and was the author or co-author of numerous technical reports and scientific publications. Whitey retired in 1987 but remained active at the Institution until 1998, using his electronics engineering expertise for various projects including the Barents Sea Polar Front Experiment in the early 1990s.

Through the years colleagues noted Whitey's ability to build experimental devices on a shoestring, calling him "an accomplished scavenger who uses his vast knowledge of the whereabouts of various old instruments to put together useful gear at a tiny fraction of the cost that should have been budgeted." His engineering skills and expertise, professionalism and competence were noted and valued by the many scientists and fellow engineers with whom he worked.

Whitey was a member of the Woods Hole Golf Club since 1957, in recent years as an active player in "The Bandits." He was also a member of the Falmouth Masonic Marine Lodge for more than 50 years.

Survivors include his wife, Grace (Kenerson) Witzell; two sons, Nick Witzell of Falmouth and Wayne Witzell of Miami, Florida; a sister, Helen Hewitt of Cape May Courthouse, New Jersey; and a brother, Ross Witzell of Levittown, Pennsylvania.

Services will be held Thursday, July 26, at 11:00 a.m. at the John Wesley Methodist Church on Gifford Street in Falmouth. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the charity of your choice.


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Warren "Whitey" Witzell (Tom Bolmer, WHOI)