Robert “Bob” Griffith, 76

Jul 27, 2020

Robert “Bob” Griffith, 76, died suddenly on July 14, 2020 in the waters off Barneys Joy Point in Dartmouth, an area he loved and fished frequently.

Bob was born October 2, 1943, in West Haven, Connecticut, to Ernest and Helen (Palmer) Griffith.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, and later went on to earn a Ph.D. in biology at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. His studies took him across the United States, and into Europe, Africa and South America. He was a member of a 1972 Franco-British-American expedition to the Comoro Islands, which led to him taking part in the first observations of a living coelacanth, a rare fish of great importance to evolutionary biology. He published a range of scientific papers on the coelacanth; fish physiology; the evolution of fishes and vertebrates; and the origin of life on earth.

After graduating from Yale, Bob conducted his post-doctoral research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and later taught at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (then Southeastern Massachusetts University) for many years. At the time of his death, he was Professor Emeritus in the biology department there.

A lifelong fanatic for all things fish and fishing, he spent a great deal of his time casting out lines from boats and shore, from inland creeks to the open ocean. He seemed equally amazed by small minnows—like the species of killifish he studied as a graduate student—and by larger fish like swordfish, which he also had occasion to catch. In recent years, his angling centered around striped bass and bluefish in the Slocum River and the Buzzards Bay. Apart from fishing, Bob also had a deep passion for skiing and mountains, which brought him countless moments of joy. He skied mostly in New England but spent time on the slopes of the Rockies, the Cascades, and the French Alps. He also loved birds and birding and spent long hours observing their ways. He has passed these passions on to his sons and many others.

In 1978, Bob met Ellen Cavanaugh, who would become his wife and life partner. The two traveled widely, spending many months in the France, England, Italy, Ireland, Greece and elsewhere. Together they attended hundreds of folk concerts in this region. With Ellen, Bob lived a life of peace, love and happiness in an area of natural beauty near the Slocum River.

He was loved by all his friends and family and will be sorely missed. He is survived by Ellen Cavanaugh, his loving wife of 39 years; his sons Paul and Tim Griffith; his sisters-in-law Nancy (Trebeck) Griffith, March (Avery) Cavanaugh and Susan (Cavanaugh) Prochnik; his brother-in-law Dr. Philip Cavanaugh; his cousin Fred Palmer; and many nieces and nephews.

He was predeceased by his brother, Dr. Bruce Griffith; and by his brother-in-law, Peter Prochnik.

Memorial contributions may be made to The National Audubon Society or the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and a guestbook can be found at

A private memorial service will be held at a later date.