Westfall graduated from high school in 1942 and enrolled at Yale University. His time at Yale was interrupted by two years of service in World War II, but he returned to complete his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948. He subsequently earned Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Yale, with a dissertation entitled Science and Religion in Seventeenth Century England.
Richard held a lengthy career as a history teacher, beginning in 1952 at the California Institute of Technology. Stints at the University of Iowa and Grinnell College followed. Westfall, who was often referred to by his nickname Sam, then began twenty-five years at Indiana University as professor of the history of science. He later served as a department chair and advanced to professor emeritus in 1989. He wrote a number of books in addition to his Pfizer Award-winning "Never at Rest." They include "Science and Religion in Seventeenth Century England", "Force in Newton's Physics", "The Construction of Modem Science", "Essays on the Trial of Galileo", and "The Life of Isaac Newton."
Member United Ministry Board, Bloomington, 1964-1973. Elder First Presbyterian Church, Bloomington. Served with United States Naval Reserve, 1944-1946.
Fellow American Academy Arts and Sciences, Royal Society Literature. Member American Association of University Professors, American History Association (Leo Gershoy award 1981), History of Science Society (Second vice president 1973-1974, vice president 1975-1976, president 1977-1978, Pfizer award 1972, 83, Sarton medal 1985), Societe internationale d'histoire des sciences.
Married Gloria Marilyn Dunn, August 23, 1952. Children: Alfred, Jennifer, Kristin.