On August 18, 2012, the Gator Engineering community lost a leader, a teacher, a colleague and a friend – Robert B. Gaither, professor and chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering from 1965-1992.
Bob was a visionary. At the time he was chairman at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, there was no PhD program. He kick-started it with the help of like-minded faculty members such as Erich Farber, and their vision paid off: not only did the newly minted PhD program graduate its first woman engineer, a feat truly ahead of its times, it also became one of the college’s most highly enrolled graduate programs . Bob also seemed to have a crystal ball: with eyes clearly focused on the bright side of the future of aerospace engineering, he was instrumental in raising aero’s profile within the department. As a result, several students subsequently won medals from NASA.
Bob was a leader. He was active in several national engineering societies, with his most prominent role being president of American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1981-82. He was already active at the society prior to his presidency, having served as vice president of the Policy Board-Education in 1976-80, as well as being past chairman of the Regional and National Mechanical Engineering Department Heads Committee, and member of the Power Division and the Ocean Technology Division.
Bob was an educator. He taught rocket engine design and plasma physics, but did not just stop there. Recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary research as well as the growing synergies in industry, he brought students of various fields of engineering together, from organizing engineering fairs that saw them inside foil-covered cardboard boxes pretending to be robots and ended up with plasma experiments, to turbine engine designs, lasers, and later, real robotics. He also placed an emphasis in his courses that included newer applications such as biomedical engineering and ceramic materials design. He, together with other colleagues at UF outside of engineering, helped promote Florida Foundation for Future Scientists, an organization formed by the State to encourage careers in science and engineering.
Bob was a beloved friend. He is remembered not only for his unwavering stance on justice, honor and integrity, but also for his good sense of humor, his love for golf, and his astonishing talent in watercolor painting. His works have not only delighted many of his friends and family during his times, but now ever more so cherished by them.
Our deepest condolences to Bob’s family, whom we know have enjoyed his utmost devotion and dedication. To his daughters Patricia and Vivienne, his brother Arnold (Karen) and his granddaughter Morgan, we would like to say, we share your loss.
We will miss Bob dearly.