Fletcher family establishes teaching and philanthropic legacy

Since he was a boy, Leroy S. “Skip” Fletcher ’58 remembers looking up to his father, Robert H. “Bob” Fletcher. A hardworking family man, Bob shared his passion for mechanical engineering with his son and thousands of Aggie students over the years.

He couldn’t know it as a youngster, but Fletcher would become a household name in the mechanical engineering Fletcherdepartment at Texas A&M University as both Skip and his father amassed a combined 70 years of teaching experience.

In 1988, Skip and other former students endowed a fellowship to honor his father and the academic foundation he set for the mechanical engineering department. Twenty-eight years later, their legacy is evolving again through a recent gift by Skip and his wife Nancy to grow the fellowship into the Robert H. Fletcher Professorship in Mechanical Engineering.  

The professorship will be awarded for the first time this fall, and funds will support the teaching and research activities of its faculty holder. The gift is intended to help the department attract high-quality faculty, improve retention, and enhance creativity and productivity.

Following Footsteps

After graduating from Pennsylvania State University in 1928 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Bob Fletcher held several jobs that led him to the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, where he was hired as an instructor in the mechanical engineering department in 1946.

“My father was a very devoted teacher,” said Skip, who now owns an avocado farm in Southern California. “He established personal relationships with almost all of his students—he truly went above and beyond.”

His devotion led to his promotion in 1949 to assistant professor and in 1958 to associate professor, and ultimately, professor emeritus. His background as an engine foreman and mechanic made him the perfect candidate to teach the automotive engineering class and serve as the faculty advisor to the Society of Automotive Engineers.

“I would walk out to our garage on weekends, and my dad would be fixing up an old car with students,” Skip said. “It was more than just teaching for him; it was his life.”

Education was a high priority for the Fletcher family, who resided in the Bryan-College Station area. Bob and his wife Jennie relocated Skip and his sister Martha to another high school simply because it provided a wider array of classes for students.

“One of my father’s main motivations for taking the job at Texas A&M was because he wanted to ensure that my sister and I could pursue a college education,” he said.

Skip followed his father’s path and was admitted to the then Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas in 1954. Though he and Bob were on campus at the same time, he never had his dad as a teacher. “One semester I really wanted to take his automotive engineering class for an easy ‘A’,” he said. “So I asked my dad if it was ok, but of course he said no.”

Bob continued teaching at Texas A&M in either a full-time or part-time capacity until 1980, when he retired after 34 years of service to the mechanical engineering department.

Lessons of a Lifetime

Upon graduating from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1958, Skip served as a 2nd Lieutenant at the NASA Ames at Moffett Naval Air Station in California before taking leave to obtain a Master of Science and Engineering degree at Stanford University.

While there, Skip met his wife Nancy, and the two were married in 1966. He later received a Ph.D. from Arizona State University in 1968 and began his career teaching aerospace engineering at Rutgers University. Eventually, after a brief stay at the University of Virginia, the family—which now included daughter Laura and son Daniel—made their way back to Texas A&M, where Skip was hired as associate dean of engineering in 1980.

In 1998, he found himself in a very familiar place. “I became a professor, just like my father many years ago,” Skip said. “My teaching style was a little different from my dad’s in that I was a little tougher, but we both focused on real-world applications of the material, which is extremely valuable for students.”

Skip spent 36 years with the mechanical engineering department, teaching classes such as heat transfer, and serving as a faculty advisor for several engineering organizations. “There is a good chance that most mechanical engineering graduates in the last 50 years were either taught by me or my dad,” he joked.

With the help of university matching funds, Skip and others honored his father’s legacy by establishing the fellowship in mechanical engineering in 1988, with the hopes that one day he could add funds to turn it into a professorship. “I was putting two children through college at the time, so it just wasn’t possible (at the time),” he said. “But it was always on my mind.”

As a former teacher, Skip knew that investing in faculty attracts not only other superb professors, but also superb students. Because state funds cover only basic faculty requirements, private support is crucial. In 2016, he made his dream a reality by adding funds to his endowment to establish Robert H. Fletcher Professorship in Mechanical Engineering.

“Professorships help recruit and retain the best talent,” Skip said. “They inspire and encourage professors to make outstanding contributions to their department, just like my father did.”

 

To support the Department of Mechanical Engineering, contact:

Jonathan Pozzi ’07
Assistant Director of Development
Texas A&M Foundation
(800) 392-3310 or (979) 862-1876
jpozzi@txamfoundation.com