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In Memory
photo from Ed Thompson

From his late 40s on, he ran through life

By ANDREW MEACHAM, Times Staff Writer
Published November 27, 2007

Like other Baptists, Robert S. Wiggins dressed for church on Sundays. Only he wore running shorts and shoes.

His church was the road, he often said.

Mr. Wiggins raced through life, competing mostly against himself. A relentless optimist, he inspired others.

He started running in his late 40s, on a neighborhood loop measuring less than a mile. At age 50, he ran his first marathon.

"If he found something he wanted, he would say, 'I can do that,'" said son Michael Wiggins, 46. "And he usually got it done."

Mr. Wiggins grew up in Florida and Georgia, the son of a bread salesman. He was good at math and baseball. To put himself through college, he drove a bread truck.

Later, he moved up the ranks at IBM, learning everything he could about computers.

Yet Mr. Wiggins never forgot where he came from.

As chief executive of Paradyne, with 3,000 employees beneath him, Mr. Wiggins abolished reserved parking spaces for executives. He parked his 1965 Buick Riviera on the outer edges of the lot, his family said.

Board members eventually pressured Mr. Wiggins into driving a late-model company car. But he never joined a country club and increasingly came to measure his achievements by the miles he walked, ran or bicycled.

He ran between 35 and 40 marathons, his family said. His fastest time came in his mid 50s, running the 26.2-mile distance in 3 hours, 23 minutes.

Mr. Wiggins ran or bicycled his age in miles at each birthday - 60 miles of combined running and bicycling on or around his 60th birthday, 70 miles at age 70. All in a day, through age 77.

He twice ran in local "ultra-marathons" of 50 miles each. In his early 60s, with his wife Christine counting his laps, he ran for 24 hours straight around a quarter-mile track, for 82 miles.

He left Paradyne in the early 1990s to start his own company, making electrical safety products. In 2007, the year he retired, Technology Research Corp. took in $35-million in revenue.

He enjoyed University of Florida Gators football, Philadelphia Phillies baseball, and visiting his children and grandchildren.

In October, hours after a morning run, Mr. Wiggins suffered bleeding on his brain. He died on Saturday at age 78, two days after walking around a Thanksgiving table and kissing each of his family members.

He left behind an unfulfilled goal: to run in a 100-mile race between two mountain passes in the Rockies.

Survivors: wife, Christine; sons, Michael (Doreen) and Steven (Debbie); daughter, Karen Wiggins; brothers, Edward, Donald and Clayton; seven grandchildren