Robert Samuel King was born in Philadelphia on Oct.16, 1921. He was the second of four children born to the late Samuel James and Hermine Mary King (nee Zimen). He died on April 19, 2012 after a brief illness.
Educated in the Philadelphia public school system, he attended Overbrook High School. There he excelled in math and science (with a keen interest in physics) and graduated in 1939. This is also where he met his high school sweetheart and devoted lifelong companion, Rosalie Olivier.
Following graduation, King was drafted into the military in 1943 and served his country during WW II as a member of the Army Combat Engineering Corps. He was involved in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, the Rhineland campaign, campaigns in Central Europe and was serving in the Pacific Theater in the Philippines at the end of the war. While in the Army, he was selected for an elite training group, called the Army Specialized Training Program, a new training program created to prepare Black enlisted men for promotion to officer status. It was the first such program of its kind at the time. As officers were required to have a college degree, the Army sent King and the others to West Virginia State College, where he studied engineering. After participating in this groundbreaking opportunity, he once reflected that his colleagues in this program were, “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 of Technical Sergeant before he was honorably discharged in February of 1946.
Honoring an old promise, King married the love of his life, Rosalie Ernestine Olivier, on Aug. 21, 1949. The happy couple was blessed with two daughters, Rev. Gwendolyn S. King and Nancy G. King-Strand (deceased).
He 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, King 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, which had been a personal goal of his since high school. During his 18-year tenure, he worked for the center as a supervisor and supervisory mechanical engineer. He 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 both as Director of Development and Director of Student Affairs until 1981.
A natural leader, whose intelligence, wit, and clarity of vision were recognized by many, King responded graciously and without hesitation to the call of service in his 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 as a member of its executive committee; and carried memberships in American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS).
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). King also joined the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Council for Higher Education in 1974 as a consultant and executive secretary.
King’s commitment to education was one of his greatest hallmarks and raisons d'être. In 1968, he became a member of the Board of Trustees of the Community College of Philadelphia. When he became Chairman of the Board in 1972, he worked tirelessly when the college obtained the former U.S. Mint building to develop a permanent campus for its students. He 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.” Through his tireless dedication, he made a difference in the lives of many, providing an opportunity for them to access affordable education. In September 1984, CCP honored King for his selfless and untiring service by creating the Robert S. King Scholarship, a two-year award given annually to 20 outstanding high school graduates from the Philadelphia region, many of whom might have had trouble affording this opportunity without it.
King 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, Ole Philadelphia Club; Financial Secretary then President, Frontiers International, Philadelphia Club; Member, Philadelphia Seminar; President, Viri Viginti Club; Member, Philadelphia Seminar; Member, NAACP.
Not only life partners, Robert and Rosalie King were a team whose commitment to improving education often carried them into service together. Together they served 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 King, family came first. Whether it was a school play, concert, special event, ceremony, or Grandparents’ Day, if it involved his girls or another family member, you could count on him and Rosalie to be there. He never missed an opportunity for family to gather, especially around a shared meal, or to just to have fun. He had a great sense of humor, with a wry, impish smile and poker face that served to help him lovingly carry out many a jest on an unsuspecting subject. He was also a wonderful storyteller.
King was a devoted husband, a loving and generous father and grandfather, a caring uncle and cousin, and a loyal friend and colleague. A committed family man, he treasured as well time spent with his siblings Elwood, Eleanor Carter King and Frances King Vaughan (all of whom preceded him in death).
He loved the outdoors and spent many summers as a youth in Princess Anne, Md., playing and working with his cousins, aunts and uncles. He loved to travel, especially vacations with his family. He also liked camping and traveled across country with his family so his girls could see the beauty and wonder of the U.S. and Canada. Later in life, he and his wife toured the world extensively. Whether revisiting areas where he served during the war, to his mother’s homeland in Eastern Europe, or to see the Pyramids in Egypt, where he and his wife rode camels, King was passionate about travel and learning about local customs. Gardening and photography were his avocations. Also a voracious reader, he would keep up with the latest happenings and issues in politics, finance, science, higher education and medicine, to name a few subjects.
He was a humble man of integrity and faith, who had a quiet, reserved demeanor that belied his wit, his piercing intelligence, and his ability to get things done. As a leader, he made a difference in the lives of all with whom he came in contact. He was a capable and willing mentor to many, encouraging them along their life’s journey to realize their potential and vocations.
Robert leaves to celebrate his life: his devoted wife of 62 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.
Homegoing services will be held April 27, 2012 at St. Phillips Evangelical Lutheran Church, 53rd Street and Wyalusing Avenue, Philadelphia at 11 am. There will be a viewing will be prior to the funeral service from 9:00 am until 11:00am. Interment will be at Rolling Green Memorial Park, West Chester.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that contributions be made to the Robert S. King Scholarship Fund – Community College of Philadelphia.