Skip to content

Robert L. Young Pioneer, Dies; AEDC Fellow was Esteemed Professor

Robert LyleYoung of Tullahoma, who pulled together the first academic program for The University of Tennessee Space Institute in 1964, and pioneered as professor, associate dean, and director of academics, died early today at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. He was 81 years old.

Young had led UT’s graduate program at Arnold Engineering Development Center for seven years before UTSI was established Sept. 24, 1964, and played pivotal roles in the life of the Institute before retiring in 1990.  He was inducted in 1994 as an AEDC Fellow.

Known for his intellectual brilliance, penetrating questions and biting humor, “Bob,” as he was called, remained an active member of the UTSI Support Council until his death.

Visitation for Young will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 2) at Daves-Culbertson Funeral Home in Tullahoma. Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday at First Presbyterian Church, Tullahoma, and burial will be in Neoga, Ill.

Survivors include his wife, Sara Crawford Young of Tullahoma; three sons, Scott Allen Young, Tullahoma, Ronald Young, Franklin, and Scot Robertson, Estill Springs; four step-children, Daniel Crawford, Matthew Crawford, Michael Crawford, all of Tullahoma, and John Crawford of Jacksonville, Fla., and two grandchildren, Dillon and Dryden Young, both of Tullahoma.

“Our dear friend and colleague was a UTSI institution – a true pioneer — and will be greatly missed,” said Donald C. Daniel, UT associate vice president and UTSI chief operating officer. “Bob was always quick with a smile and kept us foremost in his thoughts. He was also a trusted and valued advisor to many of us.”

Young was an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern University – where he received his undergraduate, master’s and in 1953, his Ph.D. — before moving to Tullahoma in 1957 to succeed Joel Bailey as head of the UT-AEDC Graduate Study Program.

As the September 1964 opening of UTSI approached, the first director, the late B.H. Goethert, had been named chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force Systems Command, which meant he would spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C. So the task of assembling an academic program fell to Young, the first deputy director of UTSI and professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering. He later was named the first associate dean and director of UTSI’s academic program. In 1978, he returned to the classroom and assumed his favorite role as professor. At UTSI, he was major professor for 80 students completing degrees (with thesis) for master’s degrees and for ten students who completed Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

Robert E. Smith Jr. of Manchester, one of the 22 graduates of the UT graduate school operated at AEDC before UTSI was established, once commented that Young, one of his professors there, “had a knack for phasing questions on his tests so that if you knew the principle, you could work the problem in a couple of hours. If you didn’t, you could never work it.”

Born on a small farm four miles from Neoga, Ill., on April 3, 1925, Bob Young was an avid student from the start. After his mother taught him to count and to spell his name, he could hardly wait to enter the one-room country school in Lambert – the only one in his class. He later said he felt a special incentive to learn his assignments. He graduated from Neoga Township High School with excellent grades.

As a 15-year-old high-school sophomore, he wrote as his ambition to “land a job in a little high school as a math teacher and coach.” At that time, he declared that he would be satisfied “if I could afford to live in a fairly modern bungalow, drive a fairly new car, and have a paid subscription to some good magazines and newspapers.”

It was only after he moved to Coffee County that Young learned that his great-great-grandfather James Dryden had been born in the Blue Stocking Hollow in southern Bedford County. After the death of his ancestor’s wife, Mr. Dryden walked 400 miles and settled in central Illinois, near Mattoon and Neoga, Young said.

A long-time member of Tullahoma’s First Presbyterian Church, Young sang in the church choir as recently as two weeks ago. He was an active member of Tullahoma Rotary Club.