Patrick and Rita Krolak; inspired and mentored others
Those who encountered Rita and Patrick Krolak came away believing everything was possible. From their children to their colleagues, from his students to her patients, all were inspired to believe they could complete any task — and the Krolaks were there to help them do it.
To understand their ability to see beyond obvious obstacles, it helps to look back to the night the two met on a blind date in the early 1960s.
She awaited his arrival wearing a two-piece suit inspired by Jacqueline Kennedy’s stylish outfits. He showed up two hours late wearing mismatched socks and shoes, cutoff camouflage shorts, and a shirt misbuttoned up the front. They went to a movie and afterward sat talking for hours, arguing late into the night about any number of issues.
“My mom said in that moment, she knew she had never met anyone like my father,” said their daughter, Karen of Somerville. “She knew she could never live the rest of her life without this man.”
For many years, Dr. Krolak was a consultant with the US Department of Transportation and a computer science professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he inspired entrepreneurial enthusiasm in students. Mrs. Krolak was a research nurse with the Pregnancy Health Interview Study at Boston University’s schools of Public Health and Medicine.
The Krolaks died Saturday in Duane, N.Y., when a car driven by their son Patrick was struck by a sport utility vehicle that had crossed into oncoming traffic. Dr. Krolak, 72, and Mrs. Krolak, 70, lived in Dover. Their son, who was 42, lived in Chicago, and was a managing partner at Marquette Associates.
Dr. Krolak “was just well ahead of his time in terms of understanding the importance of integrating and fostering entrepreneurial spirit within the academic environment,” said Rich Miner, a longtime friend who formerly was Dr. Krolak’s student.
“Much of who I am in terms of how I go about solving problems, how I go about accomplishing things in the world, is directly traceable back to Pat,” said Miner, a Google Ventures partner and one of the founders of Android, Google’s mobile platform.
A nurse practitioner by training, Mrs. Krolak “was a very compassionate human being,” said Dawn Jacobs, project coordinator of the Pregnancy Health Interview Study. “She mentored an incredible amount of staff.”
Teaching people to interview women whose children were born facing significant medical challenges is difficult, but Mrs. Krolak was an able instructor for the daunting work.
“A phrase that everyone comes up with when they talk about my mom is, ‘How hard can it be?’ No matter what task was at hand, that was her phrase,” Mrs. Krolak’s daughter said.
Students taught by Dr. Krolak heard echoes of that sentiment in his encouragement as they studied in his classes or worked with the Center for Products and Entrepreneurship, which he directed at UMass Lowell.
“He would never say ‘no, you can’t do that,’ ” said Charles Kosta, who had been a doctoral student of Dr. Krolak’s and now helps run Emoxsha Inc., based in Lowell. “He would never say you couldn’t do something — he would say, ‘How can it be done? What do you need from me to get it done?’ ”
What that meant was “you couldn’t say your project couldn’t be finished,” Kosta added. “And I think that’s what a lot of his students learned and took it out into industry, and that’s why they’re able to build companies.”
Both were raised in Illinois. Patrick D. Krolak grew up in LaSalle, outside Chicago, and Rita Moffat in Springfield.
Her father was a firefighter, and her mother learned to fly a biplane while growing up on a dairy farm, before marrying and raising a family.
Dr. Krolak’s father had several jobs, including driving a bread truck. His mother was for a time a foreman in a clock factory.
He graduated in 1962 from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in physics, and then moved to St. Louis, where he received a master’s in physics in 1964 and a doctorate in applied mathematics and computer science in 1968, both from Washington University.
Mrs. Krolak graduated from the nursing school at DePaul Hospital in St. Louis and, with her husband’s encouragement, studied for a degree in English at Washington University. In 1979, she received a master’s in nursing from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Dr. Krolak taught for more than a decade at Vanderbilt, where “he was a wonderful colleague and had a vast background in a lot of areas of systems and systems design,” said Bill Rowan, a professor emeritus at the university.
After a year teaching at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Dr. Krolak and his family moved north so he could teach at UMass Lowell.
He had begun consulting for the US Department of Transportation in Georgia and continued his work in Boston. During 30 years with the department, his projects included working on emergency response to terrorism and natural disasters, and unmanned aviation systems, according to an e-mail sent to staff after he died.
His many entrepreneurial ventures and academic publications, meanwhile, filled page after page in his resume and reached into an expansive range of high technology areas.
Mrs. Krolak was a visiting nurse in Walpole before joining the staff of the BU project. An adept pianist who preferred to play when the house was empty, she also knitted and crocheted hats for babies and homeless shelters.
“She said at Thanksgiving three years ago that the thing that made her proudest of her children is that we all give back,” her daughter said. “That made her feel she had succeeded as a mother.”
“My parents,” she added, “were incredibly proud of their children.”
Considered an intellectual power couple by their friends, the Krolaks encouraged their children to love learning as much as they did, and to share their opinions at length.
“We were constantly talking at dinner,” said their son Michael of Medfield, who is executive director of the Globe’s information technology department. “We didn’t eat at specific times in our house. There was no definite start time and there certainly wasn’t an end.”
That was also true when the family went out to dinner.
“I had somewhat of an odd view of eating in restaurants,” Michael said. “I thought it was normal that waiters would vacuum under your feet. We closed restaurant after restaurant after restaurant every time because there was always something more to talk about. We were constantly surrounded by ideas.”
In addition to their daughter and son, Dr. and Mrs. Krolak leave his brother, James of Everett, Wash.; her sister, Dorothy Christian of O’Fallon, Mo.; her brother, J.J. Moffat of Springfield, Ill.; and three grandchildren.
A memorial service for the Krolaks and their son will be held at 1 p.m. Friday in The Dover Church in Dover.
Throughout his life, Dr. Krolak seemed to have a gift for sensing when others had encountered trouble, and he would reach out unbidden to help.
“As I look through my life, all of the times he would call out of the blue, were those times when I really needed him,” Michael said. “I’ve never met a man as in touch with other people’s needs.”
Just the presence of Mrs. Krolak, meanwhile, could raise the spirits of others.
“She was an exceptionally intelligent woman and stunningly beautiful,” Karen said, “and part of what made her so exquisitely beautiful was how she changed the way you viewed yourself. When you sat with her, she made you feel like you were at your strongest and most magnificent.”