Ocean Beach 07

Richard Allen Pailes

August 11, 1932 ~ August 27, 2022 (age 90)



Richard Allen Pailes, of Norman, Oklahoma, died August 27, 2022, at the age of 90.  He was born on August 11, 1932 to William Henry Pailes III and Mildred Pedersen Pailes in Brooklyn, New York.  Following the untimely death of his mother, the family moved frequently, and he spent much of his youth in boy’s homes with his older brother, William, while his father was away at sea.  His favorite childhood home was in Rhode Island where the family settled after his dad married Joan Mattock, an English nurse he met during WW II.  The family soon welcomed three more siblings, Jeanne, Pamela, and Arthur (A.J).  In these years, Rich developed his own life-long love of ships and the sea, earning his first money by digging quahogs.  Later in life, as a Marine in the 1950s, he was

fortunate to be assigned to a ship patrolling the Mediterranean, an experience he loved and recounted frequently.


He graduated from the University of Rhode Island in Journalism in 1956, where he wrote a column of political opinion for the student newspaper and made contributions to the Providence Westerly Sun.  Following graduation, he went on to the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.  Subsequently he tried his hand at several trades: longshoreman, insurance salesman, and others.  After a layover in California, a fortuitous stop at an old college professor’s home in Tempe, Arizona, set him to his true calling, anthropology.


He met his wife, Roberta Lynne Rouse, at an archaeological dig at Arizona State

University, where he was now one of the university’s first graduate students in anthropology.  Throughout his life, he remarked that only Roberta, an Arizona native, could convince him to love the desert as much as the sea.  He and Roberta were married in 1963, and immediately packed the wedding presents in a pickup truck and headed for graduate school in Carbondale, Illinois, where Rich earned his PhD in 1971.


Rich and Roberta arrived in Norman in 1969 after Rich was hired as a professor at the University of Oklahoma. His time in that role lasted for over 30 years.  He organized archaeological digs in Oklahoma and Sonora, Mexico, where is widely recognized as a pioneer of archaeology in the Sierra Madre Occidental.  At OU, he developed a love, and a talent, for teaching and enjoyed both his formal classes and informal discussions with his students and colleagues.  He continued as a teacher even after retirement until losing his vision in 2009.  Some of his favorite experiences were weeks-long field trip classes across the Southwest US that served as formative experiences for generations of students.


Rich and Roberta had two sons born in the 1970s, Nathan Allen and Matthew Collin.  The arrival of his sons was a central event in his life.  He made sure they learned about the important things in life, including honesty, responsibility, scholarship, family, and baseball.  As the family grew, he loved his status as “Grandpappy” to Ben, Ross, Inez, Madison, and Julius.


In his free time, he enjoyed camping, fishing, watching his sons and then grandsons play baseball, political discussions, and, most of all, storytelling.


He is survived by wife, Roberta; sons, Nathan (Kasey), Matthew (Amy); brother, A.J. Pailes (Vicki); sister, Pam Helms; five grand-children; and numerous nieces and nephews.


The family would like to thank the doctors and nurses of the Integris Health system, which became an important part of his life in later years.  They also wish to thank caregivers Barbara Bruner, and the nurses, physical therapists and staff of LifeSpring Home Care.


A Memorial service will be held at the East Sentinel Pavilion (Alameda, immediately east of the bridge), Lake Thunderbird, on September 18, 2022, at 1:00 PM.  All are welcome.


In lieu of flowers, donations to the National Park Foundation would be appreciated.





Memorial Service
September 18, 2022

1:00 PM
Lake Thunderbird State Park East Sentinel Pavilion
9610 Alameda Drive
Norman, OK 73026

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