In Memoriam: James L. Bartlett Jr. '39

His Gifts to WPI Include the Rubin Campus Center Lobby and the Bartlett Center
September 03, 2014

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James L. Bartlett Jr. '39, one of WPI’s most accomplished alumni and most ardent supporters, died Aug. 26, 2014, in his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., surrounded by his family. He was 95.

With his wife, Shirley, Jim Bartlett began his generous support for WPI in 1998 with the establishment of the James and Shirley Bartlett Scholarship Fund. In 2000 the couple made a major gift to support the construction of what is now known as the Rubin Campus Center. In recognition of their contribution, the building's lobby was named in their honor. A few years later a transformational gift from the Bartletts made possible the construction of a beautiful new home for WPI's admissions and financial offices. Called Bartlett Center, it was WPI's (and Worcester's) first LEED-certified green building. The Bartletts were members of the Salisbury Society, which recognizes remarkable lifetime philanthropy at WPI.

Jim Bartlett was born in Newton, Mass., to James L. Bartlett, a meteorologist, and Philena Parker Bartlett, a professional educator and administrator. He enrolled at WPI in 1935 and received help from his aunt in paying his first year's tuition. He also worked in his father’s wholesale greenhouse to make ends meet. While attending a Sunday evening gathering at the Central Congregational Church in Worcester, Bartlett met a student from the Worcester Art Museum School named Shirley Wyatt. They were married on Nov. 7, 1942.

Over the next seven decades Bartlett earned a reputation as an accomplished engineer and businessman, pioneering developments in a wide range of technical fields and founding a number of businesses. His first job after graduating from WPI was as a research engineer for B.F. Sturtevant Co., where he eventually became assistant director of research. He later designed fans and blowers for heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems at Trane Co.

Relocating to California in 1951, he rose through the ranks to become chief engineer at AiResearch Manufacturing Co., where he designed and developed components for small gas turbine engines, environmental systems for the Boeing 707, and an advanced air-breathing engine that burned liquid hydrogen. In 1958 he helped found Cosmodyne Corporation, which became one of the nation's largest manufacturers of equipment for storing, transporting, and handling liquefied gases. After selling his interest in Cosmodyne a decade later, he joined Cordon International as a senior vice president and director.

He retired in 1970 to become a rancher in the Santa Ynez Valley in California. As a member of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, he joined efforts to preserve the valley's natural resources. But his retirement was brief, as he soon returned to his passions of engineering and business as president and owner of Hydranautics, which produced hydraulic systems for shipyard and offshore use. Over the next 10 years, Hydranautics became a major supplier in the field of reverse osmosis desalination systems in the United States and the Middle East.

When Hydranautics was acquired by Rohm and Haas in 1984, Bartlett established Bardex Corporation to continue his interest in manufacturing heavy-load moving equipment. He also reacquired interest in Cosmodyne and consolidated it with several other cryogenic companies. He later formed TriSep to make semipermeable membranes for reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, and nanofiltration. In 2000 he became chairman of Pacific Design Technology Inc., which designs and builds fluid circulation systems for military and space applications. The company supplied the integrated pump assembly used in the electronic cooling system on the Mars Scientific Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity rover.

In 1988 WPI recognized Bartlett's many accomplishments in engineering and business by awarding him an honorary doctorate in engineering. The WPI Alumni Association recognized him in 2004 with the Robert H. Goddard '08 Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement. He was listed in the 41st edition of Who's Who in Commerce and Industry.

Bartlett, who learned to fly at the age of 47, enjoyed piloting his small plane and building or remodeling the homes that he and Shirley lived in, and where it is said he always a project underway in in his workshop. The couple also loved spending time in the home they built on the Island of San Juan, Wash. In Santa Barbara, where he was known as a civic and community leader, Bartlett was a deacon and an elder at the First Presbyterian Church and a member of the board of the Rehabilitation Institute Foundation.

He leaves Shirley, his wife of 72 years; three children, James III, Judith, and Stephen; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. He was laid to rest at the Santa Barbara Cemetery next to his daughter Pamela and great-granddaughter Rachael Dawn Brown.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, at 2 p.m., at the First Presbyterian Church, 21 East Constance Avenue, in Santa Barbara. Memorial donations may be made to the Santa Barbara County chapter of the Red Cross, 2707 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.