A look at the life and legacy of Dr. Robert L. Youngs, Professor Emeritus, Virginia Tech

Compiled by Earl Kline and Tom Hammett

Retired faculty member, Dr. Bob Youngs, passed away at age 96 on April 25, 2020.  Bob was born on February 10, 1924, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to Frank L. and Florence (Wilcox) Youngs. He was married to Esther (Stevenson) Youngs. Bob and Esther had 5 children, Susan, Karen, Rebecca, Sarah, and Steven; plus, eleven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. He shared his love and knowledge of the outdoors with his family and friends throughout his life. His favorite recreation activity was hiking through the woods.

Bob served in the U. S. Army during World War II. He earned degrees from Syracuse University, The University of Michigan, and Yale University. He first worked in the field of forestry manning a fire tower in western Montana. Bob was well-recognized as an international expert in paper science, wood products, and tropical hardwoods; he had extensive experience in government work, academia, and on the international scene.

His first career was in the U.S. Forest Service, where he served for 34 years as a researcher and research administrator. His research was primarily focused on wood drying, wood physics, and wood mechanics. His research administration started at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, WI., where he served as Director; in the Washington, DC, office of the Forest Service, he served as Associate Deputy Chief for Research; and as Director of the Southern Forest Experiment Station, headquarters in New Orleans, LA, he directed research in forestry throughout the Mid-South.

After Bob’s retirement from the U. S. Forest Service, he started another career bringing his rich experience to Virginia Tech, where he served for 10 years as a professor.  He created and taught courses in world forestry, agroforestry, and principles of wood utilization. He worked on several international projects, including the restructuring of forestry research in India, reforestation in Senegal, and the review of forest development projects in Ghana. Bob also helped establish and implement exchange and collaboration agreements with several universities and agencies including ones in Taiwan, Brazil, Chile, and France. Many faculty and students benefited from Bob’s international interests and contacts, and he brought many examples to his classes.

Upon retirement from his active faculty role at Virginia Tech, he became editor of Wood and Fiber Science, the journal published by the Society of Wood Science and Technology. He shared his skills and was an avid collaborator, freely helping faculty with his editorial skills, teaching suggestions, and research expertise.  This led to further development of his passion for scientific writing and to the creation of an online course in Scientific Writing in English for faculty and scientists in Taiwan – a course he continued teaching until just a few years ago!

He was very active on the international scene, especially through the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO). He served in leadership roles on several working parties as Coordinator of the Forest Products Division, and on the IUFRO Executive Board.

He and Esther were active in the Blacksburg community. Bob was a longtime member of Blacksburg United Methodist Church, active with Rotary International of Montgomery County, and a supporter of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley. He and Esther led the establishment of the International Peace Garden on the Virginia Tech campus and were active in its maintenance for 19 years. He and Esther also established a fund in the college to recognize international graduate students’ with a scholarship. He also participated in the development of the local rails-to-trails (the Huckleberry Trail), supported Appalachian Trail preservation, and was an advocate for land and forest resource conservation programs, and for scientific education advancement. First introduced to the New River Valley region early in his career, Bob never tired of the year-round beauty, natural history, and friendly community of southwestern Virginia.  If there was a way that he could help meet a local need, he was always willing to contribute.

While Bob will be missed dearly, his legacy will live on through the many lives he touched and the lasting improvements in the professions and community he served. In his retirement, he was an enthusiastic mentor to faculty, often collaborating on writing technical papers and presentations.  Often, we would see him biking from his residence in Blacksburg to work in his office at the Brooks Center in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.  He loved to accept invitations to attend classes – especially for final presentations and discussions – engaging our students about wood technology, international development, and resource conservation issues.  Till the end, he enjoyed visits with faculty and staff, during which he would discuss current issues and challenges related to forests and forest products.

Memorial contributions are suggested to the Virginia Tech Foundation - Robert L. Youngs and Esther S. Youngs Scholarship Fund, Blacksburg, VA. (www.give.vt.edu), or to a land conservancy organization of choice.