Robert M. Douglass, Calvert Cliffs' chief engineer

Robert M. Douglass, former chief engineer of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.'s Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant, died Monday of cancer at his home in Port Republic, Calvert County. He was 88.

The son of an electrical engineer and a homemaker, Robert Mann Douglass was born in Hartford, Conn., and raised in Wethersfield, Conn., where he graduated in 1942 from Wethersfield High School.

He served as a paratrooper with the 11th Airborne in the Pacific and with occupying forces in Japan during World War II.

After the war, he enrolled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where he earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1950.

That year, Mr. Douglass joined Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., working on the design, construction, operation and maintenance of steam electricity-generating plants. He also worked in plant modification and as an assistant to the chief engineer.

In 1965, Mr. Douglass was placed on a four-man team that was charged with determining whether BGE's next generating plant should be fossil- or nuclear-fueled. They decided to construct two nuclear units that became the Calvert Cliffs power plant in Lusby.

"He continued in the evaluation of vendors to supply and build the reactor plant and subsequent design of the plant," said a daughter, Polly Douglass of Towson.

Mr. Douglass, who formerly lived in Pinehurst and Severna Park, was named chief engineer at Calvert Cliffs, where he was responsible for the selection and training of the staff, management of startup testing and commercial service of the units.

In 1978, he was promoted to manager of quality assurance and remained in that job until 1989, when he retired.

In a 1978 interview with The New York Times, Mr. Douglass lamented that Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules prohibited visitors inside the plant at Calvert Cliffs.

"If only we could show them that there's no smokestack here, no oil fumes, no piles of coal," said Mr. Douglass. "If only we could let them inside and show them we have nothing to hide."

In the aftermath of 1979's Three Mile Island disaster, Mr. Douglass told The Baltimore Sun that the incident was a learning experience.

"It is a demonstration that the safety systems did work. It is reassuring that in spite of the bad accident, the effects were as minimal as they were. … The industry is going to be better for it because the industry is undergoing further modifications, reviews, that will further enhance safety," said Mr. Douglass.

In retirement, Mr. Douglass volunteered with the Patuxent Habitat for Humanity and was a tutor with the American Literacy Council.

Mr. Douglass was twice named one of Calvert County's Most Beautiful People.

He was a communicant of Christ Church Parish, an Episcopal church, 3100 Broome's Island Road, Port Republic, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Douglass is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Sally Norris; a son, Dwight Douglass of Fairplay, Somerset County; two other daughters, Patti Wahl of Huntingtown, Calvert County, and Peggy Tolerton of Towson; a brother, David Douglass of Hartford; a sister, Mary Hart of Cheshire, Conn.; and 13 grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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