TRIBUTE TO ROBERT W. FAIRBURN
May 17, 1921 – February 22, 2013
They always called him Renaissance Man, because that is what he was.
He excelled in everything he did. He was brilliant. Bob was born in Wilson, New York, in 1921, to John Henry Fairburn, an American soldier of WWI, and Ethel Furnis, an English volunteer nurse from Dublin, Ireland. He was raised in Ashtabula Ohio, attended Edgewood High School–where he was later inducted into their Hall of Fame, was awarded a Chemistry scholarship to Syracuse University in New York, where he attended for 2 years while working part time for the air conditioning company, Carrier Corporation. Mr. Carrier himself was so impressed with Bob’s design and engineering abilities, that he offered to pay for his college education if he would stay with the Carrier Corporation.
No way would he do that … Bob had to fly! He was totally obsessed with the idea of flying.
Bob joined the US Army Air Corp, and a week later World War II began. He trained at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona to become a fighter pilot, but upon graduation he and the other young pilots were sent to MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa Bay, Florida, to fly a new hot bomber that had just rolled off the assembly line … the Martin B-26 Marauder. It was the fastest bomber flown in WWII. With no experience flying this new airplane, 30 of the 33 young pilots in Bob’s class died in Tampa Bay … the saying “1 a day in Tampa Bay” was coined and the B-26 was named the Widow Maker. So many parents had sent letters to President Roosevelt complaining about the B-26, that Vice President Truman was sent to Tampa Bay to investigate. The day he arrived, flight training had been stopped because the Army Air Corp had run out of coffins. That did it! Truman said, “No, we will not buy these bombers,” but little did he know that 5,000 were already purchased and scheduled to be flown to the European Theater.
As one of three from his pilot class to survive the training, Bob could handle this plane. He understood its mechanical and electrical operations due to his vast experience in working on fish tug engines and farm equipment from the early age of 10. He understood why the voltage dropped on take off causing “runaway props” that resulted in the numerous deadly accidents. He knew the instruction manual written by the manufacturing company was in error, and proved it to the Army Air Corp. This cocky 21 year old, who had to eat an enormous lunch and drink large quantities of water in order to be big enough to pass the military physical, saved the future of this plane.
The B-26 had to be flown at exact speeds; take off at 150 mph was crucial to avoid a stall and crash. Many pilots were intimated by this fast speed, as they were accustomed to much lower take off speeds. Bob was assigned to rewrite the training manual, correct the errors and then to tour the country, demonstrating to the frightened pilots stationed at the air bases how to fly this plane safely. After he had put on an impressive show, directing the plane through any number of daunting maneuvers, he must have cut quite a figure when he climbed out of the cockpit, smoking a big cigar and leading his pet lion cub on a chain!
The real crime committed here is that the history of this successful bomber and these talented, brave pilots has never been told. At the end of the war the Marauder had the lowest loss rate of any USAAF bomber, and it is believed Bob had the most hours flying it. After the war, in order to cover up the existence of the B-26 Bomber in WWII, the Army Air Corp lined up the planes on a German airfield, placed a bomb in each one and blew them up.
Bob was the group commander of the 387th bomb group, leading 54 bombers. He flew a record 51 missions and received many commendations.
The weather was absolutely awful during the winters in Europe and especially during the Battle of the Bulge. All planes were grounded for weeks and then on January 22, 1945, a break in the weather allowed the B-26’s from St. Quentin, France, to take off on a very important mission. Bob was the lead bomber pilot. The mission was almost scrapped because the target was obscured when Bob suddenly spotted it through a break in the overcast. It was the Dasburg Bridge over the Our River between Luxembourg and Germany, which was the main escape route for the German army. Bob made a 270-degree turn, leading a formation of 54 bombers (480 + men) to line up on the bridge and successfully hit the target. This trapped and destroyed the retreating German Nazis, resulting in the largest loss of German tanks, trucks, guns and other war equipment at one time and in one place in World War II.
His bombardier and life long friend, Dewey Albright, “the best bombardier in the Army Air Corp” was a methodical, safety conscious man who searched out Bob and joined his crew because of Bob’s reputation as “one of the best” pilots in the European Theater. Albright was a dead aim. He released his bombs exactly on target and all aircraft behind dropped on his command. This mission was very important in ending the war.
However, I’ll bet you’ve never heard about this!
It seems that this important story couldn’t be told because a B-26 bombing group accomplished the feat. Bob received 17 decorations, including the Presidential Citation for this raid. After another bombing raid in Switzerland, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. At the end of the war, Bob had the most hours in the world in this infamous airplane.
After the war, Bob continued to fly many different aircraft and by the end of his flying years he had logged a total of as many as 3 years of continuous flying time. He loved to fly, and even in his final days he longed to be flying again. Unable to qualify for a pilot’s license himself, Bob invested a considerable amount of time and energy during the past few years trying to convince Barbara to earn her pilot’s license so that she could “come along as a back up” while he flew a small plane again.
After the war, using the GI Bill, Bob attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, graduating with top honors in Architectural Engineering and Physics. He was elected a full member of Sigma XI, a scientific honorary society, the equivalent of the liberal arts’, Phi Beta Kappa. He was later invited to attend Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and received a Masters in Architecture and Urban Design under the historically famous father of city planning, Eliel Saarinen.
Bob became partner in the architectural firm Flatow, Moore, Bryan and Fairburn in 1951 in Albuquerque, NM. For the first few years he did extensive designs of technical facilities and master plans at Los Alamos, Sandia Base, White Sands and also designed and redesigned 41 air bases from California to New York, Montana to Florida. He was a personal consultant to the Air Force on the design of Nuclear Research Facilities. During this period, Bob held the Air Force’s top-secret security clearance and the corresponding top security clearance for the Atomic Energy Commission (“Q” Clearance). The firm had offices in Albuquerque, Colorado Springs and Phoenix. Bob moved to Phoenix in 1962, bought out his partners and changed the name to the Fairburn Organization. He was very successful designing hundreds of commercial projects. Many of the national projects have become landmarks, such as the Camelback Inn, The Rosenzweig Center, now called the Phoenix City Square, the Metro Center, the Prudential Center in downtown Denver, most of the high rise buildings in downtown Albuquerque, and the Albuquerque Convention Center. International projects include the Sports City Hotel and Motel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; a 20 story tower in Jeddah by the Sea; Neo Athenia, in a suburb of Athens; Tres Vidas Resort in Acapulco, Mexico; the Tres Vidas Hotel, a luxury 3,000 room hotel; and the Tahoe Seasons Resort Hotel at Heavenly Valley Ski Run in South Lake Tahoe, California.
After receiving the obligatory official invitation to do business in Saudi Arabia, the Fairburn Organization established an office in Riyadh and Bob was there for 6 years, 1974 – 1980. Working in Saudi Arabia would have been a real challenge for anyone, but Bob hit it with all his strength. The Fairburn Organization designed 3 major projects for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which were very successful. However, one project for a private citizen, a prince, turned into a business and legal nightmare. Bob took on the challenge by studying and becoming well versed in the part of the Koran that applied to this case, entered it in Saudi “Religious Court”, questioning the word and the honor of his clients. The trial lasted 11 months, and during that time Bob was a first-hand witness to what was accepted as “justice” by the Saudis: men in chains who had just been found guilty, their hands chopped off and blood running down their thobes. For a sensitive person like Bob, this was horrifying. He eventually did win his case, but in the end it was an empty victory. The experience took its pound of flesh and then some…
In 1964, Bob married Barbara Glaser, an interior designer from Colorado Springs whom he met in his office in Phoenix. They enjoyed a very loving, exciting and venturesome life working and traveling together in the architectural and interior design world. They went skiing as often as they could and played tennis every morning on their court at home. Unfortunately, there were no children, but one of their wedding gifts was a miniature poodle who was the beginning of their family of poodles, whom they loved and cherished as their children. Bob and Barbara treasure the experiences they had during the five years they welcomed two of their granddaughters into their home, serving as parents for Mary and Jessica who were then in their young, formative years.
Bob is survived by Barbara, his wife of 49 years, & poodle Dot Com, sons Kurt & Paco, 9 grandchildren: Mary, Jessica, Michael, Joshua, Alexia, Lara, Mack, Sadie & Drew and 12 great grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his son, Marc, who passed away in June 2012, and by his sisters, Isabel & Florence, & his brother, Harry.
Bob was brilliant and meant so much to so many. No matter where he went, whom he was with or what he did, he always made a difference. To some he was a mentor or a father figure but always the leader. Gary Plant, a dear friend from New Mexico reflected, “Bob represented the highest qualities of honesty, integrity, loyalty and fairness. To some Bob was a mentor, to get us through those difficult times in our life. Even as he lived these traits, Bob demonstrated the skills of an exceptional negotiator and determined business adversary. Bob expected everyone to live by these honorable standards and although he did not criticize us when we fell short, he would encourage us to analyze our actions in order to draw the best from us. If I were to recount the things Bob has done for us individually it would take a library of books to hold his good works. Words cannot describe what Bob has meant to my life, so I will merely say I was blessed by a higher authority who knew that I could be a better person through Bob’s friendship.”
Before Bob’s dementia diminished his mental abilities, he wrote in an email to a cousin about his feelings and concerns for our future.
“There are many ways to lose our freedoms besides “Terrorists” and I am alarmed at what I perceive to be a deterioration of those principles of government so eloquently expressed in our “Constitution” and “The Declaration of Independence.” In my vision, a democracy is never meaningful that is based on a majority vote of an uninformed electorate, voting in their own selfish interests at the ultimate expense and destruction of the democracy that has given them that right. It takes more than a vote for every person to make a Democracy. The lack of knowledgeable voters will cause the concept of Democracy to fail ………..
We WWII veterans suffered under the worst hardships fighting to keep our freedoms, and now they are not respected and are being abused.”
As we gather here today to remember Bob and all the ways that he has touched each of our lives and all the sacrifices he made for his country, his friends and his family, perhaps the best memorial each of us can give to him is our gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy and our dedication to helping our country and our world be the best places possible for all our citizens. Bob would expect no less.
We would like to close this remembrance with The Flyer’s Prayer
The Flyer’s Prayer
When this life I’m in is done, and at the gates I stand,
My hope is that I answer all His questions on command.
I doubt He’ll ask me of my fame, or all the things I knew,
instead, He’ll ask of rainbows sent on rainy days I flew.
The hours logged, the status reached, the ratings will not matter.
He’ll ask me if I saw the rays and how He made them scatter.
Or what about the droplets clear, I spread across the screen?
And did you see the twinkling eyes of student pilots keen?
The way your heart jumped in your chest, that special solo day-
Did you take time to thank the one who fell along the way?
Remember how the runway lights looked one night long ago
When you were lost and found your way, and how you still don’t know?
How fast, how far, how much, how high?
He’ll ask me not these things,
but did I take the time to watch
The Moonbeams wash my wings?
And did you see the patchwork fields and mountains I did mould.
The mirrored lakes and velvet hills, of these I did behold?
The wind he flung along my wings, on final almost stalled.
And did I know it was His name, that I so fearfully called?
And when the goals are reached at last, when all the flying’s done,
I’ll answer Him with no regret-indeed, I had some fun.
So when these things are asked of me, and I can reach no higher,
my prayer this day – His hand extends to welcome home a flyer.
Patrick J. Phillips