Robert H. Eustis
April 18, 1920-May 24, 2018
Robert (Bob) Eustis, son of Ralph and Florence Eustis, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1920. He attended Minneapolis public schools and was active in Boy Scout and church youth activities and leadership. Bob graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1942, receiving a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering with high distinction. He taught Navy and regular students at the university as an instructor until he enlisted in the Air Force in 1944 and was assigned to the Aircraft Engine Research Lab of NACA (later NASA), where he headed the Fundamental Turbine Research Section. After discharge in 1947, he entered MIT as an instructor (later assistant professor) and a doctoral student in mechanical engineering. Bob had married Katherine Johnson of Minneapolis in 1943, and their first child, Jeffrey, was born in 1949. Bob joined a Philadelphia-based start-up in 1951 as chief engineer, and while there finished his ScD dissertation in 1953. At this point Bob, Kay, and little Jeff moved to California and Bob found work as head of the Heat and Mechanics section at Stanford Research Institute, later SRI International.
Bob was asked to teach a course in thermodynamics in the mechanical engineering department at Stanford University in 1954, and the next year joined the faculty as an assistant professor. Thus began a 35 year career that ended in 1990 when Bob reached the then mandatory retirement age of 70. During these years Bob combined teaching, mentoring and research with professorial duties such as several terms in the Academic Senate and seven years as a Senior Associate Dean of the School of Engineering. One of Bob's major efforts was to introduce more science into the mechanical engineering curriculum so that graduate students would be better able to adapt during their careers as engineering evolved. With Professors E. Charles Kruger and Morton Mitchner, Bob founded the High Temperature Gasdynamics Laboratory in 1961, and was its director until 1980. To date the laboratory has graduated 300 doctorate students.
Among Bob's many distinctions and awards, at Stanford he was the Clarence and Patricia Woodard Professor of Mechanical Engineering and received the Tau Beta Pi award for distinguished undergraduate teaching. He was a recipient of the Centennial Certificate of the American Society for Engineering Education; a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; received the Emerson Electric Technology Award; and received a medal of achievement from the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union for his work in magneto hydrodynamics.
Bob had always enjoyed working with wood. After retirement in 1990 he started a company that designed and manufactured wooden chairs for libraries and clubs. To give the chairs a sales advantage, he patented a joint design that allowed the company to guarantee that the joints would not break. His first major project was for the Stanford Faculty Club dining room. Projects for institutions from California to Texas followed in due course. After 10 years, Bob and Kay gave the company to Stanford to endow the Robert and Katherine Eustis Graduate Fellowship Fund. Stanford in turn licensed the intellectual property to a New England chair manufacturer who reported in 2018 that 30,000 chairs had been made using the patented joint.
After Kay passed away in 2003, Bob -- to the delight of all who knew them -- partnered with Phyllis Willits, the widow of his friend Joe Willits. The two couples, with their families, had spent much time together hiking in the Sierras and traveling to Hawaii and Europe. Bob is survived by Phyllis; sister Carol Williams of Ottumwa, Iowa; son Jeffrey of Palo Alto; daughter Karen Eustis and son-in-law William Mason, both of Los Altos; grandson Adron Mason of Minneapolis; grandson David Mason of Washington, D.C.; and great-grandchildren Penelope and Mabel Mason of Washington, D.C.