A collection of stories and photos of Bob Cammarata. If you have a memory you would like to share, please email Alex Van Horn, Media Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Bob loved to interrupt classes and make fun of professors for half a class until the professor made him leave. In turn, others would do the same to him. He is the only other Ravens and Patriots fan apart from myself that I know and he loved to talk fantasy football. But maybe him and I are just the only people ridiculous enough to say it openly. RIP.
Bob will be deeply missed by us students. He made himself very approachable through a disarming humor, and actively sought to connect with us students. He taught with passion, and when the time came around for quals he was always available for board practice. He had a great way of explaining things, and his humor was peppered into the lectures and conversations. One such example was when he was covering a lecture in our kinetics class while Jonah was traveling. He stopped the lecture for a moment to comment on the way many university professors give lectures, as he was talking while writing on the board. While he admitted that talking into the board was probably not the best from a pedagogical standpoint, it was nothing personal against us. He turned to us and said “like any great artist, I despise my audience.” One of the greatest jokes I’ve heard in a long time, and Bob proceeded to carve his runes into the board. Bob always left you with both something to think and something to smile about. I believe that we have much to thank Bob for the warm community that we enjoy at our department.
Bob was Chair when I arrived at JHU less than twelve short years ago. His inimitable sense of humor burst out in his initial greeting to me: “now you have tenure, so you don’t have to do anything!” In fact, he spent untold hours in that tragically limited time mentoring me on how to do lots and lots, in all facets of academe. I considered him a mentor despite the fact that, as he always liked to joke, because of me he wouldn’t need to be the oldest member of the department. He rescued me from confusion when I had to get a complicated (for me) thermodynamics point across to a class. He gave me the inside scoop on what different program managers wanted in proposals. He gave it to me straight about what I was getting myself into on the Academic Council, where he had served with great distinction for four years.
Perhaps the greatest piece of advice that he gave me was when I was just starting out as Chair as Bob’s successor, and was overly outraged about some administrative delay. He sat me down and asked me if that kind of misplaced anger was how I was planning to spend my political capital as Chair. That calmed me down for the rest of my six-year term.
For a widely acknowledged “funny guy” good enough to have done standup, Bob was really a fountain of wisdom and understanding, and I feel robbed to be deprived of both the jokes and the wisdom for so many upcoming years in which I would have been looking forward to it from across the hall and over lunch at the Club, where we would kid about old times and common (but never shared) experiences growing up near New York and getting educated along the banks of the Charles River. He even threw in a Yiddish word here and there for my benefit. Lunch won’t be the same without you, Bob.
He let me be a poser in discussing chess and football strategies, though all I really know about those topics is the rules, compared to what Bob knew. Once or twice, he even let me, uncoordinated as I am, pick up his drumsticks, so that I could make it obvious how much harder it is than it looks to play an instrument that doesn’t actually have pitch. He also let me have an occasional turn to make a funny observation about something, which he would inevitably top with something way funnier.
His last gift to me was a visit in November during which he exuded pure optimism and unbridled energy, just as he always had during the way too brief time when I had the pleasure of knowing Bob. He wouldn’t have wanted to be remembered any other way.
On Kung Fu:
Bob knows a lot about China, particularly the history of China. Ingrid Shao was his first Chinese student. When he was in a good mood, he would say that “you are a communist.” Then Ingrid replied “You are a capitalist.” Then I found them pretending to fight with Kung Fu.
On Speaking/Reading Chinese:
When Bob was greeting me, he always said “Ni Hao” (hello in Chinese) and Zaijian (good bye in Chinese).
Once I left a holy bible in Chinese version on my working desk by chance. He saw the book, picked it up, pointed to title of each chapter, and read out loud: “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua….” Note that he does not know Chinese characters.
It feels unreal that Bob will not be here any more.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of learning in two great courses he taught: Structure of Materials and EOM Properties of Materials. He liked to place great emphasis on the fundamental physics behind many of the engineering phenomena he taught. He presented difficult ideas with great lightness and insight. He was self-effacing.
Bob was deeply critical on a range of scientific and social issues but had a great sense of humor, wise humor. Hew as a fantastic converser. He would suddenly speak in French, pretending to be a beginner, technically comment on a recent sports event or thermodynamic process in the same conversation. His integrity, clarity, and fascination with his craft, with Materials Science was exemplary.
One of the qualities that transcended Bob was the trust that he had in us. He cared about the Materials Science and Engineering community at many levels. He has left a great legacy with us.
When I think about Bob, I remember [Prof. Weihs] greeting him in the hallway as “Bobby C,” always with a big smile on your face. I also remember how much Swami enjoyed watching Bob’s online chess ranking improve.
I was fortunate to be able to take an advanced thermo class taught by Bob. He was an excellent teacher, and he seemed to enjoy working with students. Bob always made the class interesting by mixing in bits of history and stories with more mundane thermo equations. I remember him talking a lot about books he had read, and I admired Bob’s interest in so many diverse topics, from Greek history to current political events. Bob also had a great sense of humor, and it was fun to watch him laugh, because it seemed that the laughs would nucleate, grow, and eventually coalesce into a hearty guffaw.
Bob was part of my Johns Hopkins experience, and although I haven’t seen him since I left, your email brought back many fond memories. I know he will be missed around the department and the university.
Dr. Cammarata was such a great guy and such a joy to be around. I remember running into him at APS one year while I was in Germany. I went to his talk and we had a brief moment to catch up afterwards. He always swore he had me in class, although it was only the two weeks that Dr. Hufnagel was away at the synchrotron. He will be missed.
I was a Materials Science and Engineering major (Class of 1999). I had Bob for several undergraduate courses in the department and I remember him exactly as he was described: a gifted educator and selfless. I went on to earn a PhD in materials science and engineering and currently work in the field as a Senior Staff Scientist at Ashland Specialty Ingredients. It was the foundation that was laid by Prof. Cammarata (and a very few others) that prepared me for the career I now enjoy.
I will miss his sense of humor…His spirit will live on through his work and all of the students, like myself, who he has inspired.