In Memoriam: Robert M. White (1923–2015)
Robert M. White, former president of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), died October 14 at age 92. He had complications from dementia.
Dr. White was elected as a member of the NAE in 1968 and served as president from 1983 to 1995. During his tenure he helped the Academy fulfill its mission of technical leadership and to advance understanding of engineering in the technical and policy communities, the news media, and the general public. He is also credited with strengthening the institution’s role in the growth of the International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS) as well as other international engineering academies, thereby creating new opportunities for global collaboration in the advancement of engineering. In addition, he strengthened the NAE identity through initiatives such as the establishment of the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering, the world’s premier international award for engineering achievement.
Dr. White was active in a variety of advisory roles to the federal government, most recently as director of the Washington Advisory Group, a company of experienced administrators who advise on environment, energy, and climate change and the development and management of organizations and research programs. He also served on a number of Academies committees, spanning global ecology; science, technology, and health aspects of the foreign policy agenda of the United States; and US-Japan discussions on advanced technology and the international environment.
Dr. White served under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. He was appointed chief of the US Weather Bureau by President Kennedy in 1963, and in 1968 was selected as administrator of the newly formed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In the 1970s he was the chief negotiator for the United States in bilateral agreements with the Soviet Union for exploration of the world’s oceans and with France on oceanography.
He was honored for his extensive contributions through numerous prestigious awards, such as the Vannevar Bush Award and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, and honorary degrees. In 2014 he was cited by Congressman Frank R. Wolf for “groundbreaking contributions to the federal coordination of meteorology in the United States.”
Dr. White earned degrees from Harvard and MIT. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Mavis, and children Richard H. White of Arlington, Va., and Edwina “Nina” White of New York City. His brother, historian Theodore H. White, died in 1986.