Robert Graham Valpey grew up in the Detroit area. He was fortunate to live close enough to Cranbrook Prep School to attend as a day student. He was a wrestler, a swimmer and an excellent student. After a year at the University of Michigan he was able to obtain his appointment to West Point. His older brother was already serving in the Army.
Robert’s first deployment after graduation in 1945 was to Okinawa, where he served with the occupation forces. He admits that a bail-out over the South China Sea may have been due to “pilot error.” While he was in Okinawa, a USO troupe passed through, entertaining the troops with a musical production. The flute player caught Robert’s eye, and soon he and Nellie Higgins were married.
Back in the States, after obtaining his Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree at Cornell University, he returned to the Academy as an instructor. Education (both teaching and lifelong learning) was a passion, and he impressed the importance of education upon his growing family—sons Raymond and Kenneth. Robert was also musically inclined. He played piano, dabbled in flute and piccolo, and later in life took up the organ to accompany his and friends’ voices, but Nellie truly was the boys’ primary piano teacher.
His fascination with mechanical things permeated both his career (R&D at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH in the mid-50s) and his avocations (motorcycles in his youth, sports cars in his young adult years, classic cars in mid-life, and eventually motor homes in his later years).
After Dayton, Robert was assigned to the brand new Air Force Academy, where he was both an instructor and its first registrar. Meanwhile, he earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering studying at night at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Air Force allowed Robert two full-time years at the University of Illinois in Urbana, IL, to obtain a doctorate. He had the brains and drive to achieve his goal in the short time allotted.
His next deployment was to Space Systems Division in Inglewood, CA. His work was too top secret for him to say much about it to his family, but we do know that he periodically drove up to Vandenberg AFB to monitor the launching of spy satellites.
Seeing a forced early retirement on the horizon, Robert elected to take a 20- year retirement from the Air Force and apply his teaching and administrative skills to the California higher education system. He created the engineering school at Cal State Fullerton from the ground up as its dean.
Robert and Nellie separated, and in 1966 Robert found a new bridge and life partner in Margaret Joy Law. They married, and in so doing they each gained two more boys. Joy’s sons are Scott and Brian.
Dean and professor, Doctor Valpey’s final career post was as the Dean of Engineering at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA, where he succeeded in elevating the already high level of engineering education obtainable at that institution. In recognition of his long-term educational activities, which have had impact on the engineering and scientific community, industry, education and government, he was awarded the Education Achievement Award by the California Society of Professional Engineers in 1978.
After retirement, he moved to Air Force Village West in Riverside, CA. He was known as Bob at “The Village.” Bob and Joy remained very active socially and in traveling, often in their (one of many sequential) motorhomes. Bob was very distraught at Joy’s passing, 18 years before his own. But after grieving, he still found enthusiasm for life with more motorhome travel, music and social involvement.
A friend described Bob as “sharp of wit and warm of heart.” Indeed, his mind was ever curious throughout his days; he was always willing to discuss or debate almost any topic. He was also ever mindful of other people, quick to show gratitude to those who blessed his life. Dad will be sorely missed by his four sons: Ray, Kenneth, Scott and Brian; his three daughters-in-law: Debra, Kathy and Brooke; his grandchildren: Eric, Jennie, Laura and Liah; and his great-grandchildren: Brandon, Austin, Jade, Theodore and Pike.
- Class of 1945
- COL (R) and Mrs. Warren R. Stumpe '45