SPRING HILL — Richard Buggle got his first chemistry set at age 8, and promptly caused an explosion in the family garage.
In high school, he put a smoke bomb in the ventilation system — the whole school had to be evacuated.
"It wasn't that he was mean," said his son, Danny Buggle. "I think he was just bored."
After the ensuing expulsion and reinstatement into high school, he decided to quit school in 11th grade and get an education on his own terms.
He passed his GED test. He read an encyclopedia three times back to front. On average, his family said, he read 10 to 15 books each week. And he earned several college degrees.
He joined the Air Force and fought in the Korean War. He became a staff sergeant, flying seven combat missions as a tail gunner.
Mr. Buggle, an Irish Catholic Republican who thought Barry Goldwater would have made "the best damn president," met and married Dorothy Buggle — a Southern belle, a Baptist and a Democrat — 55 years ago. They had three sons.
Mr. Buggle doted on them, making sure they had the right medicine when they were sick. He disciplined them, but always stood up for their choices. And, he inspired them. When his boys were young, he worked as a volunteer police officer in Sarasota.
"When you're a kid and your dad comes home in a 3-ton army truck or a police car, it doesn't get much better than that," said John Buggle, 51, who went on to become a police officer.
For 25 years, Mr. Buggle worked as a chemist at Honeywell, where he earned a reputation as a mad scientist. At home in his garage, he experimented, developing new soldering compounds and speaker wires. His family estimates he had 23 different patents on inventions.
During retirement, which he spent in Spring Hill, he faced a battery of health problems. He had open-heart surgery twice. He had diabetes, pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
When he visited doctors, Mr. Buggle would tell them exactly what his diagnosis was. And, he'd share theories on which medicines might clash or cause side effects.
"The doctors would just stare at him," said Danny Buggle, 54.
Mr. Buggle died Saturday at age 80.
He left behind 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He helped them learn tricks to do math problems. He competed with them to see who could read books the fastest — especially the Harry Potter series. And he inspired them.
One granddaughter is a chemistry major in college.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.