Born 88 years ago in Winston Salem, N.C., Bob knew from a very early age he was destined to be involved in aviation. That desire took him to Georgia Tech, where he obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering and roomed with a future president, Jimmy Carter.
Bob began his career with the Glenn Martin Company, the “Martin” in Lockheed Martin, and came to Marietta in 1954 to work on the first aircraft designed from the ground up to carry cargo — the legendary C-130. Later, Bob helped design the C-141 and headed up the initial design team for the C-5 Galaxy.
Bob liked to reminisce about the role the C-5 played in saving Israel. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel was running out of tanks and surrounded by enemies. Prime Minster Golda Meir placed a call to President Nixon. Shortly after, C5’s began arriving in Israel with hundreds of tanks — tanks that turned the tide of battle. As Bob liked to recall, “I had a role in producing an aircraft that saved a nation.”
His talents took him all the way to the presidency of Lockheed Georgia and in serving from 1975 to 1984, he held the position longer than any other. When asked how he accomplished this, Bob had a great response: “Well, people usually say, ‘Wow,’ and I say, ‘Why wow?’ I wasn’t good enough to get promoted and I wasn’t bad enough to get fired. How mediocre can you be?” That was just Bob being Bob.
In 1984, Bob was promoted to head all the Lockheed aircraft facilities before retiring in 1986. He has served as chairman of the NASA Aeronautics Advisory Committee, as a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and is the recipient of the NASA Distinguished Public Service Award.
While Bob’s professional achievements are spectacular, his accomplishments as a servant-leader illustrate his great depth of character. Long before it became popular, Bob spoke constantly about the need to reinvigorate the American educational system and to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
It was this passion which led him to help establish and serve as the first director of the Cobb County Aviation Museum. It was here that I was fortunate enough to become a Friend Of Bob (FOB). As capital funds director for the Aviation Museum, I worked closely with Bob on projects far and wide. He was passionate about STEM education, about preserving our aviation heritage as a means to interest young persons in STEM, and about making tomorrow better than today. Bob was the real deal.
Two weeks ago, Bill Duelge, Sandy Sanders and I had the opportunity to spend an hour with Bob in conversation about an aviation concept we are all deeply committed to. Typically, we had to delay our meeting for several days as Bob had previously scheduled a daylong meeting to discuss aeronautical careers with Georgia Tech students!
Bob was a self-made man who shared his insights, opinions and vision with any and all. He preached the gospel of self-achievement through aeronautical STEM, and to his last day, Bob did what he loved — worked with people to insure a brighter future for us all.
“If I have reached great heights, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Bob, you are that giant. Standing upon your shoulders, we have glimpsed the future you envisioned for us all. It is one of the great honors of my life to have known you and called you friend. Thanks for the memories and the lessons you taught. In sharing these with the next generation, we will try and preserve your legacy.
When we honor a fellow pilot, we wish them God speed, and safe journeys in their travels west. So too with you, Bob. May you have great conversations, true fellowship and challenges worthy of your talents as you move to the next phase of life beyond this. We will miss you, old friend.
Capt. Alan Price of Marietta is a retired Delta pilot.