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Dr. James Colvard’s Navy and NSWC Dahlgren Division Legacy

By NSWC Dahlgren Corporate Communications Division | March 24, 2020

Dr. James E. Colvard – former Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) technical director – passed away on March 10, 2020.

As technical director from 1973-1980, he pushed Dahlgren to greatness by focusing on technical competence and excellence in leadership. 

The Robbinsville, N.C., native led thousands of the command’s government employees, defense contractors, and military personnel through the Dahlgren-White Oak merger. His keen eye for leveraging the strengths of each organization forged the path for NSWCDD’s success as the Navy's warfare system architect and systems engineer, delivering innovative and cost effective solutions for the Navy, Joint Forces, and the nation.

“Dr. Colvard’s influence can still be felt across the Warfare Centers today,” said Don McCormack, executive director for the Naval Sea System Command (NAVSEA) Warfare Centers, in a message posted to the Warfare Centers’ internal web portal. “His legacy lives on in our work to do what is right for the Navy, and every year Dahlgren presents an award in his name to employees who embody those values, cementing Dahlgren’s reputation as a technical organization.”

Colvard graduated from Berea College, Kentucky, in 1958, with a Bachelor’s degree in physics. He studied physics and electronics at the graduate level at UCLA, the University of Missouri, and Johns Hopkins University. His graduate work in the field of management includes studies at the University of Northern Colorado, the University of Southern California and the University of Oklahoma. He received his Master's degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma in 1973.

“He attended Berea College where he met his wife Joy,” according to Colvard’s obituary. “He took a leave of absence from college to serve with the U.S. Navy in the Korean War. His life was defined by service to his country, first in active duty then as a civil servant. He worked for the U.S. Navy from coast to coast, from his first job at Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, Calif., to his favorite job as technical director at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va.”

Dr. Colvard also served as the deputy chief, Naval Material Command in Washington, D.C., from 1980-1985.

In an interview conducted in commemoration of the Dahlgren Centennial that was published in 2016, Colvard responded to a question about the benefits of the merger between Dahlgren and the Naval laboratories at White Oak, Md., when the name change took effect while he was the command’s technical director.

“The major benefits from the merger occurred for the Navy, which is really the point we should be looking at. In spite of the fact that in the past White Oak and Dahlgren were Navy labs and did talk with each other, we now are under the same management, and this improved communications,” said Colvard. “I think the Navy benefitted in improved efficiency, the utilization of resources and the exchange of information in addressing common problems. The Navy is getting more out of White Oak—Dahlgren combined than it did out of the two separately because of the improved cooperation at the technical level — not because of any management stroke or having a common policy. The people who do the work now talk with each other more freely than they did in the past – that’s been the biggest difference.”

Colvard arrived at Dahlgren in 1969 when it was called the Naval Weapons Laboratory to lead the command’s Digital Fire Control Program, Range Operations Division, Project Engineering Division, and the Countermeasures Division. In 1968, he received the Michelson Lab Fellowship Award for Management. He also served as the Advanced Systems Department head until 1971.

He was Dahlgren’s Surface Warfare Department head until appointed as the command’s assistant technical director in 1972, serving in that capacity at the time of his selection as technical director.

After he retired, Dr. Colvard became an adjunct professor of personnel policy in the Indiana University—NAVSEA sponsored Masters of Public Affairs program, to the great benefit of many participants throughout the NAVSEA Warfare Centers. He also remained active in the local community.

“Dr. Colvard’s influence can still be felt across the Warfare Centers today,” said McCormack. “His legacy lives on in our work to do what is right for the Navy, and every year Dahlgren presents an award in his name to employees who embody those values, cementing Dahlgren’s reputation as a technical organization.”