Claude P. Brancart

Claude P. Brancart 1934 – 2021 BRUNSWICK – Claude Pierre Jules Brancart, of Brunswick, passed away peacefully at the age of 87 on Dec. 21, 2021, of complications of dementia. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt on Nov. 5, 1934, to French-speaking Belgian parents, Arnould Paul Brancart and Reine Marie Garat Brancart. When Claude was 5 years old, Arnould, employed by Caltex oil company, was transferred to Saigon, Indochina (now Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam). The family, which included his older sister, Monique, resided there until Reine and the children were evacuated to the U.S. when the Japanese invaded Indochina at the beginning of World War II. Arnould stayed long enough to destroy the Caltex refineries to prevent Japan from acquiring that oil. Both children attended private schools during the war. Claude would explain later that the reason he was a year older than most of his classmates was that he “failed 1st grade” while learning to speak English as a cadet at the Southern California Military Academy. After the war, the family reunited in Cairo, Egypt, where the children attended the recently established Cairo American School. The Brancarts frequently hiked or drove throughout Egypt. Claude loved exploring the desert. He played on the wreckage of World War II tanks and climbed one of the great pyramids of Ancient Egypt. He snorkeled in the Red Sea and steamed aboard a small Caltex tanker from Port Said, Egypt, to Beirut, Lebanon. By the time he returned to the States in 1951, his passion for the sea and all things mechanical was fixed. Claude graduated in 1953 from The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. He considered joining the Navy but opted for college instead. He earned two bachelor’s degrees, one from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the other from MIT. At Wesleyan he continued the competitive swimming he had begun at Lawrenceville and achieved All-American status. Also, while he was at Wesleyan, he met Nancy Virginia Mansfield on a blind date. Attracted to one another, they married in February of 1958. Claude was then at MIT, and Nancy had sponsored him for American citizenship. Their first child, son, Christopher Arnauld, was born nine months later. Their daughter, Katherine Virginia, was born in 1961. Claude referred to himself as an ocean engineer who spent his life in, on, or under water. His career began in 1958 with the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics. As a Program Manager in their Underwater Development Group, he did the engineering in the creation of several small research submarines. He designed Star II and took Star II and Star III, on their first deep dives. He also worked on nuclear submarines under the command of the notoriously demanding Admiral Hyman Rickover. Meanwhile, he was going to night classes at the University of Connecticut to earn master’s degrees in Engineering and Business Administration. In 1969, Electric Boat laid off 12,000 research engineers, including Claude. For a year, Claude was self-employed. In the summer he went charter boat fishing with a friend. He repaired antique clocks, one of which belonged to actress Kathryn Hepburn, and did some consulting work. Eventually he took a contract in Hawaii to refurbish Star II, conduct some studies for the Navy, Shell, and Exxon, and design an underwater habitat. He also used Star II to harvest coral for a Hawaiian jeweler and to assist in the filming of an episode of “Hawaii Five-O”. Claude joined BK Dynamics in Washington, D.C., in 1972, working on Department of Defence contracts with the Navy and spending months at sea. After opening a branch in Houston, Texas, he struck out on his own, running an engineering firm that specialized in building equipment for oil companies. He joined the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and from then until well into retirement served as an officer in its Ocean Engineering Society, helping to plan Offshore Technology Conferences there and abroad. Claude spent the final years of his career attached to the Washington office of MIT’s Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, focusing on the design and deployment of autonomous underwater vehicles for DARPA, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. He and Nancy bought a retirement home on Martha’s Vineyard where Nancy spent summers until she died of ovarian cancer in 1997. Claude had been transferred to the Draper offices in Cambridge by then. To share his love of the ocean with future engineers, Claude helped found and then manage the International Submarine Races (ISR), a biennial design competition that brought together students from around the world to test their human-powered submarines in the Navy’s test tank at Carderock, Va. By 2016 he had become Chief Judge and liaison officer. In 1998, Claude’s sister, Monique, put Claude in touch with his classmate back in Cairo and first girlfriend, Leslie Wyman Randolph, who had also lost her spouse. They married in 1999, honeymooned in Venice, and settled in Brunswick. Claude bought a 24-foot Grampian sailboat, Windance, and enjoyed cruising on Casco Bay and teaching their seven grandchildren to sail. OTC conferences ensured travel to places like Scotland, Singapore, and Malaysia. On their own they traveled to England, France, the Galapagos Islands, Indonesia, and enjoyed a sailing cruise on the Mediterranean. As he had throughout his life, Claude continued to enjoy working with wood and building things. He and Nancy frequently created sellout crafts for local markets. He became an active member of St. Paul’s Episcopal church and made a set of wooden candle holders for their windows. As Junior Warden he oversaw a giant yard sale. He had carved many fish decoys, and his collections include figurines of exotic sea creatures and frogs, plus beautiful pebbles and pieces of driftwood. Claude’s beloved sister, Monique Lehner, died on Jan, 4, 2022. He is survived by his wife, Leslie; son, Christopher (wife Elizabeth), daughter, Katherine (husband Christopher Mendez), stepdaughter, Jo Ellen Richardson (husband The Rev. Michael Richardson), stepson, Thomas Randolph (wife Yuli Supriyani Randolph); seven grandchildren, Brydon, Claudia, and Ellen Brancart, Ethan and Megan Mendez, and Elisabeth and Danielle Richardson; five nieces and nephews; 15 great-nieces and -nephews; and five great-great-nieces and -nephews. A memorial service to celebrate Claude’s life will be held at St. Paul’s on June 18 at 1 p.m. If you wish to make a donation in Claude’s memory, please consider The Ocean Conservancy or St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 27 Pleasant St. P.O. Box 195 Brunswick, ME 04011

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