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Eight Bells: Robert Kits van Heyningen

Published on December 16th, 2019

Robert W. B. Kits van Heyningen, 62, died December 14, 2019 in Boston, MA surrounded by his loving family.

Born in Montreal, Canada on April 4, 1957, he was the son of the late Arent and Josina Kits van Heijningen. He grew up in Newport, Rhode Island, returning to Montreal to study at McGill University where he earned his degree in physics with a minor in computer science.

In 1982, Robert co-founded Sailcomp Industries with his father and his brother Martin. Sailcomp became KVH Industries in 1986 and he served as a board member and Senior Vice President of R&D until 2016.

Robert was the inventor of the world’s first digital compass. He was the lead software architect and designer for KVH’s tactical navigation systems which are used on over 20,000 military vehicles.

An avid sailor, he competed in many regattas and sailed in the Newport to Bermuda race a dozen times. He worked on the electronics for several America’s Cup campaigns, starting with the France III challenge in 1980. Robert was also devoted to the martial arts, and held the rank of black belt in Aikido.

He was generous with his time, serving as a Boy Scout leader, an adjunct professor at URI, and a mentor to junior engineers at work. He was also a talented chef who enjoyed cooking for friends and family.

He is survived by his devoted wife of 18 years, Debra Kits van Heyningen; his brother, Martin Kits van Heyningen; his sons, Arent-Peter Kits van Heyningen and Willem Kits van Heyningen; and his stepsons, Michael Faria, Matthew Faria, and Mitchell Faria.

Services will be private and a celebration of life will be held in the spring.

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