When Robert E. Smith ’41 joins more than 3,800 alumni and guests on campus during MIT’s annual Tech Reunions weekend, June 2-5, he will participate in his 75th reunion—and keep his perfect attendance record. “I’ve never missed a reunion,” he says. “And I am enthusiastic that I can attend this one.”
Smith, who studied civil engineering and participated in advanced ROTC, was ordered into active duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps immediately after graduation in 1941; he served until February 1946. In the first year in the military, he taught math to navigators and bombardier cadets and later assumed administrative duties at Ellington Air Field in Houston, TX.
After WWII, he had the opportunity to take a few graduate courses at MIT under the GI Bill, so he was already in town for his fifth reunion. “It was small. We just had dinner in a restaurant, but I brought the girl I was dating.” That young lady, Eleanor Smith, who had studied voice at the New England Conservatory, would later become his wife. “We had a great time and went back for the 10th reunion in 1956,” he says.
Over the past 75 years, Mr. Smith has faithfully returned to Cambridge every five years for each of his class reunions. “It has always been a great opportunity to renew relationships with my fraternity brothers in Phi Delta Theta, my classmates in Course I, and even make new contacts with classmates I did not know when I was a student.”
One of the biggest draws to Tech Reunions has always been the music. This year he especially looks forward to attending Tech Night at Pops, the Symphony Hall concert exclusively for MIT alumni and their guests. In its 119th year, Tech Night at Pops will feature Julia Cha ’18, who will perform the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. “I have never missed a reunion or a Pops Concert,” Smith says. And he plans to keep it that way.
Smith journeyed back to campus for Tech Reunions from Pennsylvania where he had joined his father and five others in forming an engineering consulting firm in 1946. He worked there for the next 48 years, 27 as CEO. The firm, which specialized in water and sewage and highways and bridges, counted eight state transportation departments as clients.
From 1956 to 1962, the firm oversaw a joint effort by American and Vietnamese engineers and technicians under the auspices of the U.S. International Cooperation Administration. Smith’s job was to oversee the training of local Vietnamese engineers and encourage infrastructure maintenance; his group also designed and supervised the building of a major bridge over the Saigon River.
“It was an experience I value to this day,” he says. “I got to understand what it was like to live and work in another country, and made many, many friends,” including one who immigrated to the United States. “We kept in touch until he passed away about a year ago.”
Smith is the proud father of three daughters; his granddaughter Megan Goldman '04 graduated from MIT in physics. As a volunteer, Smith enjoyed interviewing prospective students for the Admissions Office as an MIT Educational Counselor for several decades. Since retiring in 1994, he has enjoyed playing golf, reading, and keeping fit.
Registration for Tech Reunions 2016 is now closed, but you may register onsite starting Thursday, June 2. Learn more online.