By Joe Garvey

Albert Sidney Roberts Jr., professor Emeritus of mechanical engineering and a founding professor at Old Dominion University's School of Engineering, died Nov. 16.

Roberts joined ODU in 1965 after earning his Ph.D. in nuclear physics from North Carolina State University

"The idea of coming into a new academic program, a new engineering program, was appealing," Roberts said in an interview for a publication commemorating the 50th anniversary of the program. "But we were truly just beginning."

After ODU joined with four other Virginia universities to form the Virginia Associated Research Campus based in Hampton, Roberts became assistant dean in charge of graduate programs for the group in 1971.

"At the peak period in the 1970s, we were probably teaching as many as 20 graduate courses a semester," Roberts said. "That caused us to get busy, and we promised them that we would provide that graduate resource as long as we continued to get the students."

Roberts oversaw the creation of a Ph.D. program in engineering, with specialization in aeronautics. He also served as chair of the ODU Faculty Senate and was a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

"He was a true gentleman and focused on the academic mission in helping the students and being a scholar in his field," said Sebastian Bawab, professor and chair of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who worked closely with Roberts on capstone projects related to alternative fuel. "He always had a peaceful and kind way to approach conflicts. When I joined the department in 1992, I felt very comfortable approaching him and asking him for advice. I found him to be caring and wanting to bring out the best in people."

Roberts graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1957 and was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He worked for Westinghouse while pursuing a master's in engineering at the University of Pittsburgh in 1960 before returning to N.C. State for his Ph.D.

"Sid was one of the original engineering professors who helped orient our budding engineering college to strive toward teaching and research quality levels that could serve the needs of our local industries, like Huntington Ingalls and NASA," said Robert Ash, professor and Eminent Scholar of mechanical and aerospace engineering. "Sid's nuclear engineering background was especially important."

Roberts' friend Bernie Kirsch remembered him in a memorial post as "a fine man I worked with as a volunteer at ODU. He was indeed a Renaissance Man and will be missed."

Roberts had many interests. He played tennis until his early 80s and sailed a 26-foot sloop. He served on the board of the Generic Theater, adored opera and was a longtime member of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, serving on the vestry and various diocesan committees. He also enjoyed travel, music, reading and writing.

"He was an enthusiastic member of the Emeriti Book Club, and I valued his contributions," Janet Bing, professor emerita of English, wrote in a post.

"He and his wife, Mary Lew, were most welcoming to newly arriving faculty members like myself," Ash added. "It was easy to feel valued and he made us feel at home, while helping us interact with the Hampton Roads community."

He was the son of the late Albert Sidney Roberts and Lorena Jefferson of Washington, N.C. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Mary Llew Bowers, and children Dr. Leigh Roberts, married to Sandy, of Chicago; Albert Sidney Roberts III, married to Barbara, of Woodinville, Wash., and their three sons Evan, Jack and Riley; Ellyn Schanze, married to Keith, of Bath, N.C., and her two sons Justin and Nathan Pippert; and Amanda Barcalow, married to Whitley, of Virginia Beach, and their daughters Emily and Sarah. There are two great grandchildren, Kylie and Jace Pippert.

Donations in his honor can be made to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 1009 W. Princess Anne Road, Norfolk, Va. 23507 or The Hurrah Players Inc., 485 St. Paul's Blvd., Norfolk, Va. 23510. To express online condolences, visit

To plant memorial trees in memory, visit the Sympathy Store.

Related News Stories

NASA Astronaut Ellen Ochoa, First Latina in Space, will Speak Virtually at Old Dominion University on Dec. 1

Ochoa was also the first Hispanic and second woman to lead Johnson Space Center. (More)

President Broderick’s State of the University Address Highlights ODU’s Progress Despite the Pandemic

“We have moved forward with bold initiatives, partnerships and many successes,” he said. (More)

Solving Real-World Problems from Space

ODU and the University Innovation Exchange Space Initiative are using satellite data to address a host of issues. (More)