A pioneering engineer in the nuclear power industry who was part of an elite team tapped to design early reactor systems that powered the U.S. Navy into the nuclear age, died Sunday in St. Augustine, Florida. Charlson, who had been battling a long illness, died peacefully, surrounded by his two daughters, who had cared for him in his final months. He was 83. A self-made man in every sense of the word, Charlson was born on the eve of the Great Depression on June 18, 1929 to William and Molly. Charlson often attributed his underprivileged upbringing as a major motivation for his drive and work ethic. An imposing figure at 6' 4" tall, Charlson was a star athlete at Peabody High School in Pittsburgh, PA. He was the first member of his family ever to attend college, the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a degree in Electrical Engineering and played football. His college career was interrupted by the Korean War. Charlson enlisted in the Air Force, and was assigned to military intelligence. As he was completing his degree at Pitt, he was recruited by Westinghouse to join the Bettis team supporting the nascent nuclear Navy. It was in that role that he developed a reputation for exacting standards, creative problem solving and highly effective team management. Until his final illness, Charlson spent the summer months of his retirement in Arco, Idaho and his winters in St. Augustine, Florida. Charlson's death comes less than four months after the death of Edith Charlson, his wife of 32 years. He is survived by his sister, Elaine Weisberg, of Monroeville, PA; as well as three children from his prior marriage, Michael of Oakland, CA (wife, Susan Austin), Frances of Half Moon Bay, CA and St. Augustine, FL (husband, Harold Fethe), and Diane McQueen, St. Augustine, FL; survivors also include Edith's children, James Barnhart, Idaho Falls, ID and Bonny MacDaniels, Ladson, SC (husband, Greg); Charlson and Edith were also grandparents and great-grandparents many times over. In lieu of flowers, please send contributions to Ayla's Acres No-Kill Animal Rescue, Inc., PO Box 1634, St. Augustine, FL 32085.
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Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Nov. 1, 2012