I knew about Robert Baten at S&S long before I actually met him. He had a reputation for being a brilliant engineer and taking on building machinery that others only dreamed of. He spent a lot of time overseas in China operating the first petroleum division pumps and blenders. They build tubing real machines that were very impressive and unique to the industry.
In 1993, the Gas Turbine Division needed a field engineering team leader and Robert was recruited for the job. Not knowing a lot about our gas turbine packages, I got a chance to help mentor him in that role. It wasn’t long before he proved himself to be the right guy for that job.
Robert had a way of earning respect from the field service team and the field engineering team. Everyone who worked for him admired and respected him. I can honestly say that I never heard anyone speak ill of him in that role, or any other at the office.
Robert was level-headed, which was not easy to do in some crisis situations. He could usually be counted on to make the right decision when the pressure was on and tensions were high. The company realized his talents and moved him to the Chief Engineers office. In about 2003, Robert was moved to the Chief Consulting Engineer Manager role and became my boss. I couldn’t have been happier that they chose him as our leader.
Over the next 13 years or so, I got to have the best boss in the company. He would step up and go to bat for you, if he needed to and that was comforting. We had some good discussions and he basically knew where I stood on most issues. He brought some higher level of respect to the Chief’s office and there were not many who challenged his decisions, mainly because they were right.
The sign on his desk reads, “Nobody’s perfect (Except Me)”
He had stacks of patent plaques and GE awards in boxes beside his desk. He didn’t want to put them on the wall, because he thought it would be intimidating or show-off his accomplishments. Actually, I don’t think there was enough wall space in the office for all the awards. He held several patents for the oilfield equipment and the mobile gas turbine packages. Robert was very innovative. He had some great ideas that were incorporated into the gas turbine packages. His signature is on a lot of products. I don’t know anyone who had more US Patents than Robert, except maybe Thomas Edison.
He had a great sense of humor and was a storyteller. After his retirement, we would get together for lunch as often as we could and sometimes visit him in Baytown to see the progress on his Factory Five project car.
We went on a business trip in 1995 to Cincinnati to review LM6000 DLE new design issues. With the Thomassen engineers along, we went to Rib Night at the Rib King’s restaurant. It was double rib night to celebrate the Rib King’s birthday and we ate way-way too many barbeque ribs. That night, Robert couldn’t sleep, so he walked around the corner from the hotel to the BMW dealership and fell in love with the new Z3. He ordered a Z3 coupe and blamed it on the ribs.
When he showed us his new Infinity Q45 in the parking lot, we asked him where the battery was. His reply was, I will sell it long before it needs a new battery.
Robert had a Mercedes SLK55-AMG that he used to race on the weekends. He had the equipment to record the laps on the track, including the sounds. He would call me in his office on a Monday morning and show me what he did this weekend. Great toys and he was like a little kid when he replayed overtaking a Corvette on the track.
He took turn inviting each of us to lunch and scaring us with a 100+ mph ride in his SLK55. I have never been in a car going as fast as Robert’s, and with the top down! He would say that this car can do 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. Then he would say, “Wanna see?” and then do it. I always felt safe with him driving, even though it was fast.
Robert always had stories to tell and he was a great teller. He would say things that stuck with me. For example, he said “growing old is tough. I used to dunk baskets, now I hurt stepping off the curb”. “when you get older, there are parts of your back that you can no longer reach”
He was a teacher. Even when he was in the ICU, he showed us a brown looking bag and said that this is what kidney failure looks like.
We got to spend a few weekends working on his project with him near the end. He knew where everything was in his garage and wanted to watch everything we were doing, to make sure we did it right. Sure wish he could have gotten out of that wheel chair and helped.
Really glad he got to spend his last day with family around him for his birthday party.
So thankful for Ruth and the miracle of her kidney donation, giving Robert many more years with us.
She has taken such good care of Robert and I can only imagine how hard it is to say goodbye.
Robert’s body was used up and failing him. His mind was still sharp as a tack. I know he had a lot more he wanted to do and wished he had more time, but I guess we all do. I will miss him. He was a mentor, colleague, boss and remarkable engineer, but mostly friend.