Dr. Robert A. Smoak

Dr. Robert A. Smoak

WHITE STONE—Dr. Robert Allen Smoak of White Stone passed away on Saturday, July 30.

Robert was born in 1936 into a long and proud United States Navy and Marine Corps tradition as the son of Col. Josiah Allen Smoak and Mary Pigman Bogusch Smoak. He was raised as a Marine Corps brat, attending schools around the world, following his father’s deployments.

Throughout his 86 years, he pursued his passions with alacrity: mechanical engineering and mathematical modeling, beekeeping, photography, judo, science fiction, surfing, hand-ball, running, biking, building cars and wine tasting. An outdoor enthusiast, he was a member of the 4000-footer Club of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Robert attended California Technological Institute in Pasadena, California, where the celebrated theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, taught much more than physics. He received his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, secured several lifelong friendships and honed a propensity for eyebrow-raising pranks.

After graduation, Robert enlisted. Upon entering the Marine Corps, he attended Officers’ Training School at Quantico where he met his wife of 63 years, Julia Pembroke Chase Smoak, a graduate of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg. They married on June 6, 1959, at Historic Christ Church prior to his first deployment to Okinawa, Japan. 

Following his military service, Robert attended the University of Virginia, receiving his masters and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering and becoming a member of the teaching faculty for several years.

In 1974, he joined the Research and Development Division at Babcock & Wilcox as a research scientist. He was one of the select team of engineers that was sent to the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor incident. He was happiest as a scientist and researcher; and after 10 years at B&W, he returned to academia to secure this focus.

At Tennessee Technological University, he taught in the Mechanical Engineering Department becoming a Tennessee Valley Authority Endowed Chairman for his groundbreaking research in engineering, consistently publishing his research, and contracting. He was the faculty sponsor for the Mini Baja Program, leading it to regional and national acclaim.

He was a featured speaker at American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and other engineering conferences. In 2007, he was the recipient of the International Society of Automation (ISA) Power Industry Achievement Award for his contributions to the advancement of instrumentation in the power industry.

Robert and his wife were sponsors for the school’s international student program and entertained students and their families frequently in their log cabin home in Cookeville, Tennessee.

In 2003, Robert retired to the Northern Neck with his wife where he raised orchids and enjoyed a quiet life at Townley Farm on Dymer Creek.

He is survived by his wife, Julia Pembroke Chase Smoak; three daughters; seven grandchildren; one great-grandchild; several dear friends; an ancient orange cat; and a veritable host of people who will miss his unparalleled capacity for one-liners.

Memorial contributions will be welcomed by Tennessee Tech BAJA Program, c/o Tennessee Tech Foundation, P.O. Box 1915, Cookeville, TN 38505.