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Ismael Escobar Vallejo, 90, La Plata

Friday, June 5, 2009


Ismael Escobar, 90, of La Plata, formerly of Spain, died of complications of heart disease April 20, 2009, at Civista Medical Center, La Plata.

He was born in Villafrades de Campos, Valladolid Province, Spain on June 17, 1918, the son of the late Isaac Escobar and the late Ana Vallejo.

He started his career following in his parents' footsteps by becoming a teacher and graduating from the Penaflorida Institute of Teaching in San Sebastian, Guipuzcua, Spain. He graduated with honors. He got his first teaching job in July 1937 at Colonia Nules in Castellon de la Plana, Spain. During his time as a teacher and as a member of the University Scholastic Federation he created and organized the "Brigadas de Choque Culturales." The group traveled through the countryside teaching and putting on plays. He left his teaching position after winning a scholarship to the Republican Air Force School of Radio and Meteorology from which he graduated with honors in July 1938. Shortly after his graduation he started working for the Air Force of the Republican Forces in Barcelona, Cataluna, Spain.

When Barcelona was taken over by the armed forces of Francisco Franco, he was captured and deported to a Vichy French concentration camp on the beach near Marseille, France. He escaped from the camp and boarded a freighter to the Caribbean Sea. He arrived at the Dominican Republic around March 1940 and started working as a sales representative for the Plus Ultra magazine and quickly became the writer, director and radio host of cultural programming for the magazine.

He met and befriended a group of Mexican meteorologists on their way to La Paz, Bolivia, where they were doing high-altitude weather studies. In September 1940 he was admitted to Bolivia. He started working for the newspaper La Razon as a weather reporter, later writing editorials.

In January 1946 he married a socialite Rosario Perez del Castillo Crosby.

Working with the Bolivian government he created and was named general director of the Bolivian Meteorological Institute in 1947. In 1949, Dr. Escobar won a scholarship from the Guggenheim Institute to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He graduated from MIT with a doctorate in cosmic ray physics in 1951. Dr. Escobar and his family returned to Bolivia with some colleagues from MIT and created both the sky lodge and Cosmic Ray Physics Laboratory at 15,000 feet above sea level on the Bolivian mountain of Chacaltaya. He would remain the director of the laboratory until 1963.

During his term as director, the lab hosted researchers from all over the world. Dr. Escobar also helped found a company called American Science and Engineering in Cambridge, Mass. With a colleague from MIT, Dr. Martin Annis, he helped create and establish a series of X-ray machines, now commonly used at all airports, and made many other advances in X-ray machines. In October 1963 he became a member of the Inter-American Development Bank in the Department of Science Education and Technology. In his last years at the IDB he was the director and representative of the bank in Mexico City. He worked for the bank and the improvement of science, education and technology in Central and South American countries until his retired to Vero Beach, Fla., with his wife in 1983.

He received numerous professor emeritus degrees from universities in the United States and Central and Latin America.

In December 1962, he received the highest award given by the Bolivian government; The Condor of the Andes, for his contributions to the improvement of the country and one of the most famous high-altitude laboratories in the world. In June 1963 he was invited to the Vatican where he was awarded the medal for scientific achievement by Pope John XXIII. In June 1988, he received the prestigious award of Alfonso X the Wise from the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I de Borbon. In March 1993, at the meeting of the American Physical Society in Seattle, he received the John Wheatly Award "for his pioneering work in funding, establishing, building and directing the extremely successful Laboratorio de Fisica Cosmica de Chacaltaya in Bolivia."

His wife died in 1999. In 2002, Dr. Escobar came to live with his daughters, Ana Maria and Elizabeth Escobar, in La Plata.

He is survived by his daughters; his son, Richard Escobar of Sharon, Mass.; grandchildren, Anacristina, Joshua, Alejandro and Francisco; great-granddaughter, Devin Embrey; brother, Ricardo Escobar; nephews, Ricardo, Andres, Fernado and Angel Escobar; and other nieces and nephews in Spain.

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