Engineering Historical Collections

A Pioneer Among Graduates

A July 2010 interview with Bob (Class of 1949) and Jean Raymond who witnessed first-hand the birth of the engineering school.

A July 2010 interview with Bob (Class of 1949) and Jean Raymond who witnessed first-hand the birth of the engineering school. Bob passed away in April 2022, two years after the death of his wife of seventy-two years, Jean.

Before Bob Raymond graduated as an electrical engineering major in 1949, he witnessed many of the momentous events of that time in our world, our campus, and our college. He experienced World War II, the GI Bill, the legislative action establishing the University of Massachusetts in 1947, the campus reorganization creating the School of Engineering in 1947, and the formation of the Electrical Engineering Department in 1948. So, you see, Bob Raymond is an eye-witness who can report first-hand on these larger-than-life events.

He depicts those formative years with a keen eye for detail, a dry wit, and a gift for understatement. “Originally I was in the Class of 1946,” Raymond recalls about his freshman year of 1942. “But I got interrupted by the war.” Yes, didn’t the whole world? If a tone of voice can possibly reflect the twinkle of an eye, that describes Raymond’s words when he talks about the early days of the campus.

Raymond grew up in Auburn, Massachusetts. In 1942, just out of high school, he was introduced to his future wife, Jean, by mutual acquaintances at the Congregational Church in town. But it evidently wasn’t love at first sight, because their paths wouldn’t cross again for several years and many thousands of air miles.

“He was a couple of years in front of me in high school,” recalls Jean, a 1948 alumna from UMass in Home Economics, “and he was always the class president and a football player. He had no idea who I was.”

But he would find out. After entering UMass as a freshman in 1942, Raymond had every intention of matriculating as a physical education major and spending four years playing varsity football. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum for this plan. The war “interrupted” everything. Bob soon joined the Army Air Corps and was trained as a bomber pilot. In 1944, just before VE Day, he was stationed in Great Britain, flying four-engine B-17 Flying Fortresses.

After he was mustered out when the war was over, Raymond returned to UMass on the GI Bill while putting his life back together, as millions of people were doing all over the globe. Once more, fate stepped in to redirect his plans.

“Bob was trying to get back in school, and he came up for a look,” remembers Jean. “And I was walking along with some of my sorority sisters, and they said, ‘Oh, look at that handsome officer!’ And I said, ‘Hey, I know him.’ And I went over and said hello.” They were married in 1948.

The war years had made some big changes in Raymond, one of which was his desire to become an engineer. In fact, about 40 percent of the returning veterans took engineering courses. In Raymond’s case, he chose to become a “Power Major,” which was in line with his ambition to work for an electrical utility. Meanwhile, he also returned to the familiar territory of many previous heroics. The gridiron.

“I like to say I played left out,” he joshes about his football career. “I started as an end, but the coaching staff quickly found out I had brittle fingers for catching the ball, so they put me at guard.”

He went both ways, offense and defense, as was the custom in those days of iron-man performances, and was chosen captain in his senior year of 1949. He wryly describes the team’s record as “forgettable.” He adds that “We played major powerhouses like Tufts, Bates, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.”

Back in the classroom, Raymond was also dealing with powerhouses. Literally. “I wanted to work for electrical utilities doing various kinds of engineering work,” he says. “One professor actually tailored a course for me related to working for electrical utilities. So he adapted that class to exactly what I would be doing after I graduated. Incidentally, I was the only student in his class. That’s personal attention for you.”

Very few colleges anywhere can boast a one-to-one faculty-student ratio, even if it was for only one class.

According to the 1947-48 catalogue, Raymond would have taken courses such as Elements of Electrical Engineering, Heat Power, several mathematics, physics, and chemistry classes, some civil engineering courses, as well as English, economics, and psychology courses. The neophyte School of Engineering started out with one building in 1947, the engineering shop, erected in 1916. Then in 1949 Gunness Laboratory was built to house laboratories, faculty offices, and classrooms.

As for engineering labs, there was a big problem. “The laboratory equipment was almost non-existent,” Raymond says. “That’s because the lab had been located in an annex next to North College, but that building burned down in January of 1948.”

Jean, who was living in North College at the time, still remembers that night vividly. “I woke up, and the whole laboratory building next door was engulfed in flames.”

Then George A. Marston, the first engineering dean and the college’s founding father, worked some magic. “Dean Marston was a wonderful man,” declares Raymond. “He was a father confessor to all of us. He had a gift for making students feel at ease with him. He also had many friends. And he scrambled around, getting his friends from other colleges to donate army surplus equipment for the lab.”

The fire-gutted lab building was rebuilt that same year. By then, the former Massachusetts State College had been renamed the brand new University of Massachusetts. The Division of Engineering had officially been upgraded to the School of Engineering. And Robert R. Brown was named the first department head of Electrical Engineering. Those institutional changes were having a big effect on the attitude of the campus and the enrollment at the School of Engineering. The entering class in the School of Engineering in September of 1947 was 120. By September of 1954, the total number of engineers enrolled would mushroom to 728.

Bob and Jean Raymond also tied the knot in 1948 and went to live in Northampton. Then something happened in his senior year that dwarfed his accomplishments on the football field and in the classroom. “I was supposed to go to a professor’s house for dinner one night, but that fell through,” he says slyly. “That’s because Jean was having a baby. It’s about as good an excuse as you can make up.”

Now, more than 60 years after Raymond graduated, and following a long career in electrical utilities and sales, he is semi-retired. He and Jean live in Chatham, on Cape Cod. They also keep up with their alma mater. “Why have we stayed in touch with UMass?” says Raymond. “We both got fine educations there, and we really enjoy the atmosphere on campus. Amherst was and is a lovely town. We feel like it’s our home.”