Dr. Robert E. Steele
1947 - 2015
Bob Steele was exceptional. Born in Berkeley, California to Margaret and Elbert Steele, he lost his father to cancer when he was just ten years old. Rock solid, Peg raised Bob, younger sister Barbara and little brother Jeff with just the right mix of freedom and iron. Bob was an engineer from the start, with an inquisitive mind and natural curiosity. He loved to know how things worked, taking them apart and putting them back together. He rewired their house at the age of 15 and rebuilt the engine of Peg’s car while in high school, and there’s something about making cherry brandy and the preacher, but that’s a story for another day.
Bob earned his BS in Physics/Math from Sonoma State University, and his MS and Ph.D. in Physics from UCSB. His professional career spanned nearly 40 years. He worked for LASP in Colorado on NASA funded projects, at General Research in Santa Barbara on projects ranging from robotic wafer handling systems to linear accelerator controls, and he subsequently consulted for various semiconductor processing equipment and telecommunications companies, where he developed a passion for motion control technology. It was during this time that he designed and produced the motion control board that would become the foundation for Motion Engineering, Inc., a company he founded in 1987. Bob served as Chief Technical Officer at MEI (now part of Kollmorgen) from its inception until his death.
A stellar engineer and problem-solver with infectious energy, he purchased a pair of retired auto assembly robots (on e-Bay of course) and transformed his garage into a “robotics theater”. He programmed them to dance in sync to Creedence’s Suzie Q, adorned with Santa hats or baseball caps and shades, and he loved to show their snazzy moves to students, friends and colleagues.
Bob had a way of getting under your skin, and his friends were life-long. He had a tremendous sense of humor, was generous, witty and always saw the very best in everyone. He had a special, almost electrical charge about him, a brilliant mind and a kind of endearing social awkwardness. He had a booming voice, ate too fast and had a way of always working his napkin into shreds. He was constantly losing his wallet, phone or passport. He loved Creedence Clearwater and Jimmy Buffett, and red Toyota trucks. He was a do-it-your-selfer with a minor in plumbing, and he always had a project brewing.
A hike with Bob was a botany lesson. He would spew the genus and species names of all the plants you passed and if by chance he came across one he didn’t know, he would simply make it up, with a grin and a chuckle to let you know you’d been had. He loved his old hiking boots and trod the trails of the Grand Canyon and “Shit-For-Brains Canyon” in the Mojave, and oh how he loved the desert. Several times a year he and buddies Lyman and PJ would pack up that red Toyota with rockets, spud guns, quadricopter, telescope and toolboxes and hit the road. Steak, baked potatoes and artichokes, astronomy lessons with a laser pointer to the stars, sitting in the camp chairs at dusk being “masters of all we survey,” and life was good.
Bob loved three women in his life and married two of them, first Kelly Steele (Sheridan) and then Nancy Haydt, and he kept them close throughout his life. Jennifer Lundmark became his third and final love, and with Jen came the horses. Bob, ever the trooper, overcame his fears, donned a cowboy hat and boots and on his trusty palomino steed, Monte, became an endurance rider, even earning the title of “Endurance Rider of the Year.” He had no children of his own, but was Uncle Bob to Anna and Jessica Grubaugh, Adam Steele, Jennifer Haydt and the Packard girls, and great uncle to Ella and Jack Reid.
When cancer struck two years ago, Bob battled it with courage and conviction, and never lost hope for a cure. He fought hard and endured so much throughout those two years, but when asked by a friend at Thanksgiving a year ago what he would want to do if he knew his life was coming to an end, Bob thought for a while and said simply, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Fortunate to call him brother, fortunate to call him friend.
A LIVE EACH DAY memorial Celebration for Bob will be held on Saturday, June 20th at 3:30pm at Kollmorgen, 33 S. La Patera Lane, in Santa Barbara. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Direct Relief International or Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, and Bob’s kitties, Emma and Loki, are awaiting adoption at ASAP.