Obituary: Charles “Chuck” Parrett

Charles Parrett
Posted at 2:53 PM, Jan 18, 2024

Charles “Chuck” Parrett, (‘Charlie’ to those who loved him), renowned hydrologist and devoted family man, passed away peacefully January 16, 2024 from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). A stoic all his life, he never complained about his illness, or really anything else, including MSU failing to make the college football championship again this year.

Like his parents before him, Charlie was born in Butte on July 26, 1945, and lived a hardscrabble life, growing up at the Four Mile (called ‘Hellsport’ at the time) out on Harrison Avenue. He remained lifelong friends with many of the kids he grew up with. After graduating Butte High in 1963, married his high school sweetheart, Bonnie Pettersen in 1966. He attended Montana Tech, taking a degree in Engineering Science in 1967. He went to graduate school in Bozeman, earning a master’s degree in civil engineering from his beloved alma mater, MSU in 1970, and then settled in Helena to raise a family. He worked briefly for the Montana Highway Department, and then the Department of Natural Resources before settling into his career at the US Geological Survey.

In his long tenure at USGS, he forged lifelong friendships with his colleagues, and with them developed equations for calculating debris flows and extraordinary flooding events still used by hydrologists today. In 2005, he was given a “Water Legend Award” by the AWRA for his outstanding and extensive contributions to surface-water hydrology. His colleague Eloise Kendy wrote at the time, “Anyone associated with water science or management in Montana has this in common: they know and respect Chuck and his contribution to the better management of Montana’s water resources.”

He was a respected scientist and mentor to many others, but he was also a devoted family man, friend, and community volunteer. All his life he connected with children on their level, perhaps because he never lost his own child-like fascination with the natural word, and his innocent trust that the universe was unfolding exactly as it was supposed to. He was a friend and mentor to many children and young people, and loved by all who knew him. He taught many kids to fish, or how to do math, or to read. While living for a time in California after retiring, he volunteered to teach English to immigrants.

Throughout his life he was an avid fly-fisherman, though because he was from Butte and a pragmatist, he was not too proud to use worms. He loved woodworking, reading, and puzzles of all sorts. He practiced moderation in every