Development & Alumni Relations Office 

 Ronald 'Bryan' Cairns, PhD (died 22 August 2019, aged 86)

Obituary available online at

DR. RONALD ‘BRYAN’ CAIRNS, PhD (died 22 August 2019, aged 86)


A true gentleman and brilliant mind, Ronald “Bryan” Cairns passed peacefully at the age of 86 after a brief but courageous battle with cancer. Bryan was born in Holyhead, Wales to Ronald and Dorothy Cairns. Bryan spent his formative life in Letchworth, England under the extraordinary circumstances of World War II before moving to Ireland for secondary and post secondary education ultimately graduating from Queen’s University Belfast with a PhD in Physics. In the mid 60’s, he arrived in the US under a NATO Research Fellowship assuming a professorship at USC. An intellectual and sportsman, Bryan played on the Irish National Rugby team followed by league rugby in California while at USC. Bryan returned briefly to England, before making the decision to build a life in the States.


Bryan met his loving wife, Suzanne Dorr, in Boston and married in 1966. Two years later they moved to Seattle having been hired by the Boeing Company. Bryan’s passion for science, fuelled his research and led to a successful career as Manager of Physics Department at the Boeing Defense and Space Group. Other than a brief period in the 70’s, where Bryan studied under the Sloan program at Stanford Business School, Bryan and Sue made their home on Mercer Island. Here the couple raised their two daughters, Katie Boissoneault and Sarah McCain.


Within the Mercer Island community, Bryan was an engaged and respected leader. He served as Mayor (2 years), City Council Member (10 years), Mercer Island Library Board Member (8 years), President of MI Congregational Church and most recently as a member of the Mercer Island Planning Commission. He was a Rotarian both on Mercer Island and in Seattle, and served on the UW Physics Board. Among other passions, Bryan was a notable watercolorist, pianist, avid reader of any and all things, and enjoyed sports including rugby, cricket, tennis, squash, biking and golf. Bryan was loved dearly by all those blessed to know him.


Bryan will be greatly missed by his wife of 53 years (Sue), two daughters (Katie and Sarah), and three grandchildren (Caroline, Matt and Lauren). Bryan was preceded in death by his only brother, Stuart S. Cairns.


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