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Robert Mahard St. John entered his heavenly home on November 29, 2022. He was born in 1927, to Fred and Penelope St. John and grew up in Topeka, Kansas. Robert maintained a newspaper route to supplement the family's meager depression income. He worked for the Kansas Highway department, where he developed a high confidence level for driving in winter storm conditions, and he was always miffed by closings due to weather here in Oklahoma. At their home, Fred and Penny St. John had a large garden. Meat and eggs were brought to them by Grandfather St. John, who had retired on a farm bordering the Oregon Trail. In the summer, Robert would ride his bicycle several miles to get the large block of ice necessary to make ice cream. He was the valedictorian of his graduating class in 1945. He enlisted in the United States Navy the week after graduation and showed an aptitude in physics. Robert was placed in electronics to learn how to maintain the newly invented radar and sonar systems which were so critical to our war effort. One of his proudest days occurred when his service in World War II was recognized by his being in a group of 81 veterans to travel to Washington, DC on an Oklahoma Honor Flight in 2015.
Taking advantage of the GI bill, he attended Washburn University and then Kansas State University, earning a BS in Electrical Engineering in 1950 and an MS in Physics in 1951. Robert married Phyllis Marie Frank in 1949, and the couple was blessed to celebrate 70 years of marriage in 2019. Robert continued his pursuit of physics at the University of Wisconsin where he earned his PhD in 1954 having specialized in the study of electric arcs.
Robert joined the faculty at the University of Oklahoma as Assistant Professor of Physics. The couple built a home “on some farmland southwest of campus". He maintained his own lawn until his 95th year. The couple joined McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church and were active for decades as Sunday School Teachers. The St. John family grew with the addition of their children, Glenn and Carol. Various family members attended OU football and basketball games with Robert for over for 70 years.
Robert contributed to science and education during his 36-year tenure on the OU Physics faculty until his retirement in 1990. As a researcher, he was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1971, for experimental research that has contributed to the body of knowledge on the capacity of atoms and molecules to absorb energy in the process of emitting light. Robert mentored ten Doctoral candidates and seven Masters candidates. He was President of the OU chapter of Sigma Xi (the national honorary society for scientific researchers, 1976-1977). He was a member of the Gaseous Electronics Conference (GEC) Executive Committee for six years. Robert was also regular in attendance to the International GEC Conference. Of note were conferences in Mexico City, London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Moscow where he presented many of his 28 peer reviewed publications.
Robert was chair of the Engineering Physics program for fifteen years and was Professor of Physics for the Life Sciences courses for twenty years. He was conferred the title Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy upon retirement in 1990. He enjoyed teaching the undergraduate courses the most, and often started almost every class with some humor. He was well known to tell corny jokes his entire life. Although he had a student who served as President Clinton's science advisor, he felt greater pride and affection for the innumerable students that became a generation of engineers, medical professionals and teachers.
His membership and involvement in activities at McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church was of utmost importance to him. Visitation of prospective members was his calling (he would appreciate the pun). A Certificate of Appreciation was presented to him on May 11, 2011, thanking him “for over fifty years of visitation on behalf of McFarlin Church”. He was a member of the Fellowship Sunday School class and the Men’s Prayer Breakfast group for over 50 years. He was a photographer for many years, employing a Nikon camera and his own darkroom. If there was a volunteer job to do at McFarlin, Robert and Phyllis likely took it on at one time or another.
Robert was the rare individual who enjoyed working with numbers, so much that he actually looked forward to January and calculating income taxes. During income tax filing season, Robert worked with the AARP volunteer team in Norman annually from 1990 to 2017. Many great friendships grew out of associating with other volunteers whose main goal was to help people and have a good time doing it.
Robert spent the final season of his life as a caregiver. In order to do this, he had open-heart surgery at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic in his 80s. A dedicated husband, he took care of his “better half”, Phyllis, as she cheerfully progressed through the stages of Alzheimer's disease and its complications. He was also a constant support to his daughter, who manages young onset Parkinson's disease through traditional medicine and exercise. The pair was almost certainly to be found on the OU campus at water aerobics or at the fitness center until the pandemic changed the world. Walking in the neighborhood twice a day became the routine until vaccines proved themselves effective. Robert loved the pool most of all and continued to attend water aerobics, using a lift chair to access the water until the last few weeks of his life.
Robert loved people and always had a running joke to tell friends and anyone who crossed his path to make them smile.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Oklahoma Parkinson's Alliance or the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Click here for a link to the live stream of the memorial service. https://youtube.com/live/5T7NhtS5cg4?feature=share