Funeral services for Robert S. King, a distinguished World War II veteran, nuclear physicist and exemplary educator who helped transform Community College of Philadelphia into a major educational outpost, were held recently at St. Philips Lutheran Church in West Philadelphia.
Mr. King, 90, also one of the city’s widely respected civic leaders who lead numerous social organizations, died April 19, 2012.
Robert Samuel King, a native Philadelphian, began his journey on this earth on October 16, 1921. Born at home (on North Peach Street), he was the second son of four children born to Samuel James and Hermine Mary King (nee Zimen). Educated in the Philadelphia public school system, he attended Overbrook High School where he excelled in math and science and graduated in 1939. This is also where he met his high school sweetheart, Rosalie Olivier.
Following graduation, Robert was drafted into the military in 1943 and served his country during World War II as a member of the Army Combat Engineering Corps. He was involved in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, The Rhine and Central Europe, and was serving in the Pacific Theater in the Philippines at the end of the war. While in the Army, he was enrolled in an elite training group — The Army Specialized Training Program (officer training for Black enlisted men) – and studied engineering at West Virginia State College.
There he met, as he said, “The finest group of Black men he could ever imagine.” It was an experience that changed the course of his life. He held various positions of rank including Staff Sergeant/Communications Chief, and achieved the rank ot Technical Sergeant before he was honorably discharged in February of 1946.
Keeping an old promise, Robert married the love of his life, Rosalie Ernestine Olivier on August 21, 1949. The happy couple was blessed with two daughters the Rev. Gwendolyn S. King and the late Nancy G. King-Strand. Robert took full advantage of the GI Bill and matriculated at The University of Pennsylvania, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics in 1956. He also pursued graduate studies at Temple University.
As a civilian, Robert was employed as an insurance underwriter at the Veterans Administration and an inspector for the Philadelphia Ordnance District, before joining the Naval Air Engineering Laboratory and Engineering Center in 1956. In joining NAEC, Bob fulfilled his dream to become a nuclear physicist. During his eighteen year tenure, he worked for the Center as a supervisor and supervisory mechanical engineer. Bob ultimately became Ship/Aviation Systems Section Supervisor in the Weapons/Ship Branch of the Naval Air Engineering Center Engineering Department. In 1974, he became Affirmative Action Officer for the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science and served there as Director of Development and Director of Student Affairs until 1981.
A natural leader, whose intelligence, wit, and clarity ol vision, were recognized by many, Bob responded graciously and without hesitation to the call to service in the Philadelphia Community. In 1969, he became a member of the Board of Directors of the University City Science Center. During that time, he also served as a director of the West Philadelphia Corporation and was a member of its executive committee; carried memberships in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
His other community involvements were extensive and included: president, West Philadelphia Bicentennial Committee; Executive Board, Garden Court Community Association; Board of Directors, Keystone Automobile Club; Regional Advisory Board of Directors, AAA; Board of Trustees, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital; President of the Board, Stephen Smith Towers; Board of Directors, Citizens Crime Commission of Philadelphia; Board of Directors, Presbyterian Medical Center; and Chairman of the Board and President, Berean Savings Association (the oldest black bank in the country). Robert joined the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Council for Higher Education in 1974 as consultant and executive secretary.
Robert’s commitment to education has been his hallmark. In 1968, he became a member of the Board of Trustees of Community College of Philadelphia. When he became Chairman ot the Board in 1972, he worked tirelessly when the College obtained the former United States Mint building to develop a permanent campus for its students. Bob devoted himself nearly full- time to the college as the new campus began to take shape. In an interview shortly before the move to the new campus, he said, “CCP is the nearest thing to a city college that this city will ever have. I feel fortunate to be part of making it happen.” Robert made a difference in the lives of many, and provided opportunity for them to access affordable education.
In September 1984, CCP honored Robert for his selfless and untiring service by naming a scholarship after him for outstanding high school students.
Robert often wore the mantle of leadership in many of his social affiliations as well. They include: President, Bullhorn Toastmasters’ Club (NAEC); Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. – Zeta Omicron Lamda Chapter; Vice President then President, Olde Philadelphia Club; Financial Secretary then President, Frontiers International, Philadelphia Club; Member and President, Philadelphia Seminar; President, Viri Viginti Club and Member, NAACP.
Not only life partners, Robert and Rosalie were a team whose commitment to improving education often carried them into service together. Together they served as members of the home and school association, at the Albert M. Greenfield School, as president and vice president of the H.C. Lea Home and School Association, as well as Co-Chairs of the Parents Committee at Gettysburg College.
For Bob, family came first. Whether a school play, concert, special event, ceremony, or Grandparents’ Day, if it involved his girls or another family member, you could count on Bob and Rosalie to be there. He never missed an opportunity for family to gather, especially around a shared meal, and to just have fun! A jokester, who had a great sense of humor, he also loved the outdoors and spent many a summer in his youth in Princess Anne, Maryland playing and working with his cousins, aunts and uncles. He loved to travel, especially vacations with his family. He also liked camping and travelled across country with his family so his girls could see the beauty and wonder of the United States and Canada. Later in life, he and Rosalie traveled extensively and managed to see the Pyramids of Egypt and ride a camel during one of their trips. Gardening and photography were his avocations. A voracious reader, Bob would keep up with the latest happenings and issues in politics, finance, science, higher education and medicine, to name a few.
Robert leaves to celebrate his life: his devoted wife of sixty-two years, Rosalie E. King; his daughter, Rev. Gwendolyn S. King; his granddaughter, Ashlie A. King-Bratton; his grandson, Derek Robert E. King-Bratton; his great-grandson, Jaylen Ashur Holland; his first cousin, Beulah E. Johnson; his sisters-in-law, Sydney E. King and Leola M. Williams; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.