Robert Eisengrein, 92; battled W.R. Grace & Co.

Mr. Eisengrein held an aerial photo of the contaminated Acton Superfund site in 2000.
Bill Polo/Globe Staff
Mr. Eisengrein held an aerial photo of the contaminated Acton Superfund site in 2000.

Months after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Robert Eisengrein saw the destruction the blast left behind. His stints in politics and as an environmental activist in Acton were decades away, but as he photographed and wrote about the desolate site during a visit, he knew he was meant to make a difference.

“It made me conscious that you have to give a certain percentage of your time to activities affecting everyone,” he told the Globe in 1995.

A longtime electrical engineer, Mr. Eisengrein was the technical manager for Acton Citizens for Environmental Safety, an activist group that pushed W.R. Grace & Co. to clean up soil and groundwater pollution. Analyzing data gathered through the state’s Toxics Use Reduction Act, he illustrated the potential health hazards in Acton and showed groups around the state how to determine the dangers in their own communities.


Mr. Eisengrein, who was honored at the State House in 2000 with a Governor’s Award for his work in toxics use reduction, died of complications from pneumonia Jan. 20 in his Devens home. He was 92.

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“There were big divergences on what should be accomplished, and what W.R. Grace was willing to do,” said Doug Halley, the health director in Acton, where pollution from the company forced two town wells to close.

“Bob was a great mediating influence so that the project could move forward,” said Halley, who worked with Mr. Eisengrein on the cleanup efforts.

After nearly 20 years in Acton, Mr. Eisengrein and his wife, Bette Barbadoro, decided to move to a smaller home. They settled in Devens, which had just been converted from a military base, and he quickly forged a community with other residents. Working with the Devens Committee, he hoped to see the former military base become a township.

Just after Mr. Eisengrein’s death, state Senator James B. Eldridge filed a bill in his memory that would incorporate Devens, made up of parts of Harvard, Ayer, and Shirley, as an official town.


Mr. Eisengrein was devoted “to the cause of granting Devens status as a town in Massachusetts,” Eldridge said in a statement that was published in the Harvard Press.

During what could hardly be called retirement, Mr. Eisengrein restlessly moved from one project to the next, favoring those that let him to assist communities in need of change.

“He lived every day to the fullest,” his wife said. “He always kept on doing and trying to make things better for everybody.”

Born on Staten Island in New York, Eisengrein was the third of four sons of Adam Eisengrein, a confectioner, and the former Sophie Schroeder. He and his brothers grew up surrounded by homemade candy and frozen treats in their father’s ice cream shop, which was adorned with old Coca-Cola trays and wire-back chairs.

“All four boys had to work in the shop,” said Mr. Eisengrein’s daughter Perri Eisengrein Kentner of Oxford, Conn. “My father said that when they were young, they were allowed to go in and eat whatever they wanted and as much as they wanted. Every single one of them only did it once.”


After graduating from Curtis High School in 1937, Mr. Eisengrein majored in electronic engineering at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Upon graduating in 1941, he took a job with General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y.

In December 1945, Mr. Eisengrein traveled to the coastal city of Kure, Japan, for three months as a civilian engineer for the Navy to locate and defuse underwater mines.

Recording his impressions of bomb-scorched Hiroshima in a series of photographs and journal entries, he documented the melted glass, twisted metal, and the people who remained after the atomic explosion. He also saved reminders of the event to share with his family and with students in presentations at high schools.

“I look at the pictures and remember having been there as if it were yesterday,” he told the Globe in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the blast. “It was that stark.”

In 1947, he married Norma Dowling of Colorado. Two years later, he received a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The couple relocated to Rockford, Ill., where he worked for Sundstrand Corp. and where they had two daughters.

“He was very much the engineer; with the bow tie, pocket protector, and slide rule,” said Kentner.

The family moved to New York, where Mr. Eisengrein became vice president of Seneca Falls Machine Co. In 1969, the family moved to Keene, N.H., and he worked for Kingsbury Corp. He also served as a city councilor and a Planning Board member.

His marriage ended in divorce, and a few years later, because of a chance seating arrangement at a Tanglewood concert in 1977, he met Bette Barbadoro. They dated for the next six years.

“Having both been divorced, we were not anxious to try again until we were sure,” she said, adding that she had five sons and a daughter of her own.

In 1979, Mr. Eisengrein began the first of three terms as a New Hampshire state representative. He resigned in 1983, retired from engineering, and married Barbadoro.

“My life changed to have him there, to have so much support,” said Mark Barbadoro of Boxborough, her youngest child, who was 14 when Mr. Eisengrein became part of their home in Acton. “He was always a gentleman, a wonderful role model, and a great communicator even with people who were at odds with him.”

Along with participating in many organizations, Mr. Eisengrein was an avid skier who took up swimming and tennis after a hip injury kept him away from the slopes. As he had with his children, he often took his grandchildren to museums or on picnics, and taught them to canoe. Even when he needed a cane for walking, he would strap the cane to his bicycle and go on rides through town.

“He was one of a kind,” said his daughter Linda Eisengrein Reid of Keene, N.H. “He taught us to treat people with respect and kindness. He was a man who, even if he didn’t like someone you never knew it. He always found something good in that person.”

A service has been held for Mr. Eisengrein, who in addition to his wife, two daughters, and stepson leaves a stepdaughter, Veronica Rogalis of Plymouth, N.H.; four stepsons, Paul Barbadoro of Concord, N.H., John Barbadoro of Littleton, Thomas Barbadoro of Marlborough, and Patrick Barbadoro of Lunenburg; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

“He was Rapid Robert, always on a mission,” his wife said. “Always very active, he never complained, never quit, and never gave up on anything.”

Sarah N. Mattero can be reached at