Robert Kedzie Sayre, a mechanical genius, or at least very close to one.
by James K. Sayre
My father, Robert Kedzie Sayre, was born in 1916 in Detroit, Michigan. His father, Frank Valentine Sayre (born on St. Valentine's Day) was an electrician and his mother, Ida Stone Sayre, was a school teacher. She grew up in Petersburg, Michigan, where her father owned a sawmill on the River Raisin. He was the richest man in town and had a very large Victorian house. She went to Albion College, in Albion, Michigan, and was the first member of her family to become a college graduate. She went on to become a school teacher before she married Frank.
My father and his older brother, George, bought a Model A Ford, took it apart and successfully rebuilt it. My father studied hard in high school and received almost all As and became first in his high school graduating class. This was in the depth of the Great Depression; he paid for his college tuition with his newspaper delivery route earnings. He went on to study mechanical engineering at Wayne University; he wanted to follow his older brother, George, in the study of medicine, but family finances would not permit it. He consoled himself with reading all of his brother's medical books (which stood him in good stead in his later life, when he could read Dr. Linus Pauling's writings about Vitamin C megadoses and Co-enzyme Q-10 and then talk intelligently with his doctors).
Robert received his bachelor's degree in Science in Mechanical Engineering from Wayne University in Detroit, Michigan. He also met his future wife, Audrey Bowers, on campus in an Astronomy class. She majored in physics and home economics and also received her Bachelor's degree at Wayne. They were married in a civil ceremony at her family's house in Detroit, and then moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where Robert earned his Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering.
After a couple of war time mechanical engineering jobs in New York City, he settled in with Westinghouse Electric Corporation in their nuclear navy division in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in early 1950. He designed a new steam generator, which was used in the Nautilus, the first American nuclear submarine. This design, for which he was given a Westinghouse patent disclosure award, was also in the next fifty nuclear submarines.
At home in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, he kept busy on the weekends with repairing and maintaining three cars. Over time, we had owned a black 1941 Ford coupe, a gray 1947 Studebaker, a 1954 dark blue Buick Roadmaster (a great car), an inherited 1954 Ford with automatic shift and a great high speed passing gear. My father later bought a red and white Chevy Corvette to amuse himself and my younger sister, Marilyn.
His largest project was to widen our narrow steep sloping drive enable it to hold three cars, along with a small part-time basketball court. He had never done any brickwork before, but he designed and built a curved climbing brick retaining wall on the inner high side of the driveway.
In his last several years before he took early retirement from Westinghouse in 1979, he worked on the Solar One project, which is located outside of Barstow, in southern California. He received a Westinghouse patent disclosure award for some his innovative design work on Solar One.
All in all, it was quite an imposing legacy to live up to: having both parents as high school class valedictorians and their getting a lot of As in college, too. But we three kids muddled through...
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