Robert

Robert

Robert Howard was a gifted engineer, an energetic host, and a devoted father. The long-time Palo Alto resident loved nothing more than motorcycling off-roads in a deserted natural environment or tinkering with an old car in his garage in midtown Palo Alto.

Howard, the vice president of engineering for San Francisco-based Lunar, an engineering and industrial design firm, died along with his wife and two daughters in a car accident while vacationing in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. He was 48.

Howard was born December 28, 1962 in Boston, Mass, while his father, Ronald was teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was the youngest of four children and his sister, Kim Saxe, remembers that Howard was special, right from the start. “He was highly intelligent and had a memory like an elephant,” Saxe says. When Howard was just 8, the family spent a year traveling in Europe during his father’s sabbatical. Friends tried to tell his parents that he wouldn’t remember anything from the trip because he was so young. Years later, he could still recall the names of each campsite and what they did there. “He had a prodigious memory,” Saxe says.

When Howard was 3, the family relocated to Palo Alto, when his father joined the faculty at Stanford. The younger Howard attended the Peninsula School in Menlo Park, Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto, and Palo Alto High School. He graduated in 1980. Howard followed his siblings to Stanford, earning a bachelor’s and master’s mechanical engineering, in 1984 and 1986, respectively.

Howard joined Apple at the time of its first renaissance of product design, remembers his brother John, who was also there at that time. Howard became part of the division responsible for printers and display monitors – basically the stuff that goes around the computer. Early on he was awarded a patent for a tilt and swivel stand and then earned several more in quick order. His reputation was that of a really sharp, go-to guy who could get a project back on track.  “He was always ‘Robert, don’t call me Bob,’” remembers John Howard. Though he didn’t make a big deal of it, that’s how he became know:  “Always Robert. Just Robert.”

Likewise, at Lunar, Howard took a lead role running the engineering group – a complicated slot that involved some sales, some engineering, and lots of creativity. He helped maneuver the company into more involvement in the burgeoning field of medical design. As a boss, Howard had a reputation for being  “wicked fast, smart, funny, but always kind,” says John Howard. “He wasn’t one of these guys who would take you down a notch when you hadn’t done something right.” As a result, his workforce was amazingly stable, full of people who, once hired on, rarely left. That was true for Howard, too: “He came in, it worked, and he stayed,” recalls John Howard.

Howard had a gift for and love of design well before he landed at Apple. “He was making things and making projects from when he could hold a screwdriver,” John Howard recalls. His work was impeccable: “things that he made with a hand tool looked like they were machined.” He wasn’t a mere tinkerer, either. He was constantly optimizing things, especially his beloved four-wheel-drive jeep. Howard shared this gift for design by returning to Stanford to teach product design classes.

Early in his time at Lunar, Howard began a tradition of going camping each year with his brother John and several of their male friends. They usually headed for the Eastern Sierra Nevada and then down toward Salina Valley, in the Mojave Desert, says his sister-in-law, Cindy Howard. He also loved the trips the whole extended family took each year: to Cambria at Thanksgiving and to Death Valley at Christmastime.

By 1996, when he began at Lunar, Howard had already met the woman he would marry: Ana-Maria Dias, a bright, gracious, artistically gifted woman who came to the United States when her family fled war-torn Angola during the late 1970s.

The couple met at a party and Howard was smitten, but Dias was involved with someone else. The next time they met, though, she was again single and a romance began. “It was quite a match,” Saxe says. “He hit gold with this one.” They were a particularly good fit intellectually – on camping trips, they would bring along a dictionary and look up words and engage in passionate discussions about them.

Their daughter Samantha, who went by Sam, was born in 1999, followed two years later by Veronica, who everyone called Nica. Saxe says one of her final conversations with her brother was about how excited he was that Nica was expressed an interest in trying off-road motorcycling. Within the last month he took her to try, out to Hollister State Vehicular Recreation Area – and she absolutely loved it. Howard was over the moon, Saxe recalls.

Howard is survived by his father, Ron, of Palo Alto, his sister Kim Saxe and her husband, Tim, of Los Altos, his brother, David, of Menlo Park, his brother John and his wife Cindy of Palo Alto; a nephew, Andrew, of Palo Alto; three nieces, Amanda, Laurel, and Gwen, of Palo Alto; and an uncle, Burton Hatheway, of Bridgeport, Conn. He is predeceased by his mother, Polly, who died in 1997.

 

62 thoughts on “Robert

  1. Dear Robert,
    We met you at the beginning of the school year 2010-2011 and we were so happy that your daughter Sam was in Sandra’s class.
    They both had an amazing year together and you were such a wonderful and nice person
    With our love
    Patricia, Philippe, Adrien and Sandra

  2. Our deepest condolences to the family. We cannot express in words the sadness that we feel for your loss and our community’s loss.

  3. Our condolences to the family. Words cannot express the sadness that we all feel. Not just a loss to their friends and family, but to the community.

  4. Robert, I remember that last Saturday I was talking with you at the corner of Emerson and El Dorado. You were walking your dog and I was out walking. We talked about the upcoming block party, and the need of a social network for pets, as you said your dog liked to “socialize” with other dogs and people.

    I will miss you as a great neighbor. You will always be remembered by us living on Emerson street.

  5. Dear Dr. Howard,
    Nothing is harder than to express the sadness I feel. I am deeply sorry for your loss. Always remember forever that ~
    Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day.
    Unseen, unheard, but always near; still loved, still missed and very dear.
    – Anonymous

  6. We live in Radium Hot Springs and are truly sorry that such a devastating accident has happened to what I read was a wonderful family. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families and friends in their home town.

  7. On behalf of so many Canadians whom I know shall be with me in prayer:
    may I extend my sincere condolences to the family, friends and communities of Robert, Ana-Maria, Sam and Nica. Your sorrow is known by God. Your grief is shared by millions; your love is forever the strength that, in time, shall lift you above this suffering. But for now, remember, give thanks and share the pain together as they traveled together; and in time you shall rise, as they shall rise – to the glory of God. Children, talk, talk and talk – teach the adults – speak of the heart and talk. God’s peace to you. In time. Jody +

  8. This is such tragic news. Kim, David and John, you are such close siblings, I can imagine what this loss means to you and your families. You are all in my prayers.

  9. We are so sad for your loss and our prayers and thoughts are with your family. You left phissicaly but your sprit is still among us.

  10. Words are not enough to express the sudden emptiness and sadness we are experiencing. My husband had known Robert since he was 12 years old in 7th grade. Robert was also a groomsman at our wedding. We shared the joy of going on camping trips, numerous times. Robert was our specialist to go to whenever our 1976 motor home wouldn’t start. Our boys have fond memories of playing chess with Robert, whom our boys called affectionately, “Uncle Robert.” We last saw the family in June at our younger son’s high school graduation party. Ana Maria had always showed compassion about the condition I suffered with (ALS), and she had then told me that when she’s back from her trip that she would like to come help me around the house now that she had more time. She was an exceptionally kind person. Nica and Sam loved playing with my two teenage sons who were like their cousins. The girls also loved our 14.5 year old dog, Clifford. Our deepest condolences to the family.

    Love,
    Kameda Family

  11. I do not. Know the family,only read about them and their terrible tragedy. My condolences to anyone who knew them. They seem incredible, honorable,and admirable. May peace be with them and all who knew them. Shannin-Martinez

  12. Hello my friend,
    Thank you for all those wonderful discussions on everyday life and politics. I always look forward to seeing you every moring when we drop off our youngest at their prespective class rooms. Though, the time was short our famous phrase was “Catch you on the next One!” I will miss them and you my friend~ Fairwell~.
    Godspeed

  13. My condolenses to Robert and Ana Maria's family. Robert, Ana Maria, Sam and Nica will always be missed and fondly remembered on said:

    My condolences to Robert and Ana Maria’s family.
    Our family’s played soccer Sundays @ Kully’s Soccer, camped together, Maddie even hung out in “Edwina” on a camping trip to the Pinnacles with Sam and Nica.
    The Howard’s filled their lives with zeal and adventure.
    Robert, Ana Maria, Sam and Nica will always be missed and fondly remembered.

  14. I was shocked by the news of this tragic event this morning when I awoke. Robert and I started about the same time at Lunar years ago. I’ll always remember him as a talented, kind and compassionate man. I was truly saddened by this terrible news. My deepest condolences go out to Robert’s and Ana-Maria’s family and to the Lunar community.

  15. I am do deeply sad to hear this news. Robert, you were a true gem of a person — honest, sincere, giving, talented and always looking toward the best possible outcome for any situation. We have all lost so much…

  16. I knew Robert from our days at Stanford. I am so, so sorry to hear of the tragedy. He and his family are in my thoughts.

  17. My thoughts and prayers go out to Robert and Ana Maria’s family and the Lunar community. Robert and I spoke late last year about work opportunities and I was struck by his thoughtfulness and intellect. This is such a tragedy and I will miss the opportunity to see and work with him again.

  18. Robert’s friendship snuck up on me over the course of three years of Saturday soccer games that we took our kids to. I remember when the alarm clock went off early on cold mornings, and I started dutifully to get my daughter to a wet field, I would hope that I’d get a chance to chat with Robert for an hour or so. I will miss you Robert.

  19. What a shock…what a tragedy…Robert was a great man, a true mentor to many and he will be missed. I feel blessed to have crossed your path. May you Robert and your family find rest and peace. -Bruno and family from Switzerland.

  20. I was completely shocked when I read the news this morning. I had the blessing to work along side Robert for seven years and I am extremely thankful for wonderful memories we shared. My heart and prayers go out to his family for this incredible loss. – Glenn (Gdub) and family.

  21. I was in disbelief when I saw the terrible news on tv tonight. I always liked chatting with Robert about some gizmo or speculating on the manufacturing process for some interesting part. Robert had great patience for explaining how something worked, he was always willing to share his bountiful knowledge. I am greatly saddened by the loss of him and his family My condolences to the family.

  22. I too am heartsick over this terrible, tragic loss. May we all be inspired by this wonderful family to be more engaged, curious, hospitable, and giving.

  23. Dear Robert,
    It was so nice to have you as a boss during my internship at Lunar back in 2004. It was so exciting to work with you on all the innovative products. I still always carry around in my pocket that SD card that we worked on. On the other hand, I am hoping that I will not have to use the clever medical device that we prototyped. 🙂 As you know, I fell in love with the work, was inspired, and decided to start my own product development firm back in Tokyo after graduating from Stanford. I was truly looking forward to working with you on the new project that I contacted you about last month, and was waiting for you to get back from vacation to speak with you for the first time in six years. I will miss you so much.
    Moto

  24. I first met Robert 30 years ago and our paths have crossed many times since. I will miss his wit, intelligence and humor. What a tragic and senseless loss of a wonderful family. My condolences to the entire Howard family.

  25. I am so deeply sorry to hear this news. Robert was a wonderful, engaging man. Ana-Maria was a truly warm woman. My deepest condolences to the entire family. Words cannot express the loss I feel.

  26. If you grew up with Robert, or Rat as we affectionately came to call him, as a school time friend, two words were the bane of every weekend plan: chores and Hollister. We knew even as middle schoolers that we were less bright, less funny and definitely less engaged without him. But he had chores. Our frustration finally came to a head with a daring birthday morning home invasion and kidnapping (his mom left the door unlocked). With Robert bound, blindfolded and in his p.j.s we dragged him in Bruce’s wagon all over downtown Palo Alto until we celebrated our victory with a stop at a now defunct ice cream shop. Thus began a wonderful birthday tradition.
    I can’t imagine that the guy who shared so many of my formative memories: first girlfriends, spelunging, Go Monkey Go, bottomless glasses of wine, has left us in such a fashion.

    Peace

  27. I was deeply saddened and shocked to hear the news about the accident and the passing away of Robert, Ana-Maria, Sam, and Veronica. We share your loss and our thoughts and prayers are with all of you in this difficult time. Carla and I send our sincere condolences and sympathies. Words are simply inadequate…

    I am thankful for the opportunities I had to spend time with Robert and Ana-Maria — what a great life filled with energy and giving they led. What makes this even more painful is how sudden and shocking is to face the loss of such a wonderful family and how helpless we feel in the face of such a tragic event.

    Sincerely,

    Mazen

    “… When you part from your friends, you grieve not;
    For that which you love most in them may be clearer in their absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain…” Gibran Khalil Gibran

    • The loss of Robert and his family is sad beyond words. They brought joy to many of us in ways that could so easily have been taken for granted. Let’s honor them in our memories as they (and we) so truly deserve!

  28. I live in Calgary and have a summer home an hours south of Radium – I travel Highway 93 on a regular basis – and marvel at the beauty along the way every time – Robert and his lovely family were about to enter into one of the most scenic stretches of their journey to Banff – we often spot a bear on the side of the road just meters from the accident scene. My daughter and I traveled the road yesterday and talked about how their lives were cut short in so many ways. We are deeply saddened, and our prayers go out to their family and friends.

  29. Robert I’m very grateful for having had the opportunity to work with you. Engineering consulting often tests a man, and in the short time we worked together I watched you meet many challenges with both wisdom and grace. I will always remember and appreciate the speed and flexibility of your thinking, and your knack for finding the positive.

  30. Robert,

    Just the other day I was reminiscing about you being my manager at Apple when I was just another product manager barely out of school. I had wondered if you were still at Lunar or not and thought about reaching out to reconnect and now regret that I did not.

    I will always remember the guidance you gave me which lives on in me to this very day and will treasure it always.

    Dave

  31. As a good friend of brother John, I wanted to express my sympathy for the loss of members of such a vibrant, talented family. Such a tragic loss is a powerful reminder to live fully and love completely every day. From reading their story, it sounds like they did. May their souls rest in peace.
    Thoughts and prayers for all who loved them.
    Carol

  32. Robert,
    Over the years my family and I truly enjoyed the Hollister Hills 4X4 adventures you and Ana-Marie put together. I will never forget the time My son and I got stuck sideways on a steep hill and we were about to tip over. You were able to get your Suzuki Samurai to the top of the hill and winch us out. You certainly helped us out of an ugly situation. I will always be grateful!
    Tony

  33. Devistating news. A horrific tragedy. Please accept my deepest sympathies for your losses. Robert was a true gent-a warm, lovely and kind man with the most incredible mind and talents. I knew him earlier in his life–before he had a family of his own. I’m sure they were from the same fine cloth as Robert. I’m so very sad for everyone. RIP dear Robert and family.

  34. I only had the pleasure of meeting Robert. The words that come to mind are: giving, engaging, supportive, intelligent, insightful, and tireless. All who knew him will miss him dearly, and I will be thinking of his entire family in these difficult times.

  35. Robert,
    I knew your daughters and they both were very loving and it’s so sad that your family is gone. I’m still in shock about the whole thing. I’m sure you were a great man and an amazing father!
    Love always,
    Erika

  36. Its nice to have met you Robert. You’ve been very kind to even an unknown start-up like me and advised and helped so much on my ideas. I was really looking forward to working with you and your team in the coming years. Am glad you liked the Petronas Twin Towers replica I got you last September. Whenever I look up the Twin Towers in KL it’ll always remind me that you’re up there in the heavens May you and your family rest in eternal peace.

    Love,

    Dr Sharahwanaun
    Kuala Lumpur.
    Malaysia

  37. Our hearts go out to the Howard family at this deeply saddening time. We knew David at Paly (1976) and met Cindy and Laurel through music classes. We are so sorry for your tragic loss.

  38. Thank you for the happy, laughing memories of Rat, with Ken and Simon, in Palo Alto during the 1980s. And in particular for Ken and Juri’s pre-wedding preparations and one Christmas, I think 1990, when Rat came up to the cabin with Simon, and Rat brought his warmth, charm, and a wonderful silliness to the holiday.
    Those memories are blessed, Rat, and you’ll live on in our hearts for the wisdom, kindness, and support you unstintingly gave to us all.

    “It just shows what can be done by taking a little trouble,” said Eeyore. “Do you see, Pooh? Do you see, Piglet? Brains first and then Hard Work.”
    Winnie the Pooh
    The House at Pooh Corner

    Rest in peace with your loved ones.

  39. I worked with Robert at Apple for a number of years. He was the kind of man, even in a vast corporate environment, who would always take time to be kind, to be patient, and to be respectful of every single person, especially those in support roles. He always had a kind word and a smile. And, he was funny and sweet.

    In talking with former Apple colleagues in the past few days, in working through the grief that we collectively feel about this unimaginable tragedy, many stories have been mentioned of kindnesses paid by Robert and memories of working alongside him. Kindnesses from years ago have easily drifted to the forefront of discussions, proving that such acts are never, ever forgotten, and that they endure beyond what might ever be imagined. My deep condolences go to the families who have been left bereft by their passing. A small consolation may be knowing how much each of their lives have touched others, and how their individual acts of kindness can never die.

  40. we are all still in shock! such a tragic thing to happen to such a beautiful and amazing family. I will miss all their smiling faces at Lunar events. our hearts and prayers go out to the Howard/ Dias families.
    Big Kiss Robert!
    I can’t believe that such young and wonderful lives are lost! I’ll miss this family so much! They were such great people and Sam and Nica were so much fun to be around!
    xo,
    Liv

  41. Dear Robert, Your voice echos in my mind – negotiations, laughter, insight. By pure chance I walked by LUNAR’s Munich office the other day, was inspired to subscribe to icon-o-cast to remain connected when learning of the devastating tragedy that erased you with your family from this earth far too soon. I was fortunate to have been able to work with you and your team to breathe life, usability, character, and style into medical devices. I’m thankful for that time and the connection, Leander.

  42. Our hearts our broken for Kim, Ron, John, David, and Robert’s other family members. Words cannot express our grief.
    With fond recollections, we remember the fun games we used to play as children on Tennyson Street. Robert was the little guy. Smart as a whip too.
    You are all in our thoughts.
    The McElhinney Family

  43. I knew Robert at Paly as an especially kind, gentle, and of course brilliant spirit — and then was so delighted to reconnect at Young 5s with both of our children in the same class, and then to come to know the dear Ana-Maria and the most precious Nica. Robert, Ana-Maria, Nica, Samantha, you are all in our thoughts and prayers as you find eternal peace and comfort in the bosom of our creator. You touched our and so many other lives forever with the rare beauty and grace of how you lived. Our sincere condolences to the rest of the family — you are in our prayers as we grieve with heavy hearts your and all of our loss.

  44. I spoke with Robert not so long ago at a Stanford recruiting fair earlier this year, and then this sad, sad news. I will always remember Robert fondly from Apple days as a gifted engineer, but especially when he would leave the rest of us in the dust mountain biking after work. Such a terrible and senseless tradgedy.

  45. Our annual sojourn to the desert with you, John, and friends has been a yearly highlight. I will miss your childlike enthusiasm for exploring whenever we would see a road or trail that had not been taken before. I have seen things now that I would not have otherwise. We will miss you going forward, but you will always be a part of us.

    -Dale

  46. Robert- I can still see your infectious smile and hear your rowdy voice. I hope you made it to Going to the Sun Road. You will be deeply missed.

  47. One evening after an El Carmelo event, the kids were all running around on the grass and Robert pulled out his phone to help me plan a trip to Death Valley. We were taking our ’76 VW bus, so of course, he knew the challenges and joys of taking an old vehicle like that on an adventure. He spent a lot of time, going over the roads and being sure to point out the good spots for camping and for finding hot springs.
    Last Christmas, both of our families headed to Death Valley and we missed them by just one day at Furnace Creek. I am so sad that we didn’t hang out just one more day to spend time with them there.
    A warm, generous and fun family… we miss them and are very sad.

  48. Oh, Robert,..not a single day goes by without thinking about you and your family. We miss you guys so much… I go to bed thinking about you and get up in the morning thinking about you. The image of your family keeps on growing stronger and stronger with each passing day. I will keep cherishing all the fun memories our families have had together. The memories and the amazing legacy of your family will keep on living in my heart.

  49. I am from Qingdao China, was so glad to meet you via e-mail this year. Our team including me were deeply sorry to hear about the terrible news. I feel consoled by reading about you and you wonderful family. I would like to be your hand near by in China.

  50. Facebook recently started “Are They Your Friends Too?” at the top of my Home screen. How ironic that up popped Robert Howard’s family picture today, courtesy of his brother John, who has it as his profile photo today. When my family was traveling across the country without me in our minivan, this was the inconceivable nightmare I tried never to think about. Rest in Peace Robert, Ana-Marie, Sam and Nica. I did not know you well but the loss of a family so like my own wrenches my heart. If only I could “friend” you now.

  51. I met Robert through my friend Matt while I was in the biodesign program. His energy was certainly contagious. One day I received an email from Robert on LinkedIn …

    “Hi Eric, Robert here. I just saw we’re not linked up, and though we should change that.

    Cheers,

    – Robert Howard”

    I wish I had more opportunities to work with you Robert, you will be missed!

  52. Robert-

    It took me a while to be able to write this down. I tried a few times and just didn’t feel strong enough to do it, but here I am.


    I don’t have words to thank you for all your mentorship, leadership and friendship. I learned a lot from you, both as a colleague and as a person. From small details about English grammar to big decisions about projects and client management.

    

I remember many, many stories about my time at LUNAR and I also remember few other moments when you showed great sensitivity as a person even when I was not an employee.

    

I remember that long and intense meeting with a medical equipment client when we left all shaken and confused, but you managed to cheer up the team.

    

I remember you came to my goodbye party.

I remember you congratulated me after getting married.

I remember you sent a nice not when my daughter was born.

    I remember lots of discussions when we would not agree, but you would still say “Hola” with a big smile the next day.

    I remember hanging out in Houston two years ago and seeing you leading your team at the APDF workshop. That was a big humbling moment of admiration and respect again. You were a true leader.


    I remember all these small details that showed your sensitivity and respect, and I really admire that from you. Not just your amazing technical capabilities and enormous knowledge, but also your care and integrity as a person.

    

I can’t name all the great things I learned from you and that I will always keep with me and remember.

    

I am sending my condolences to your family and friends, with a heavy heart.
This is a very difficult situation to understand and my brain still cannot believe it.

    Thanks again for giving and teaching us so much.

    -Alberto

  53. The immensity and suddenness of this loss is stunning.

    I got to know Robert and 2006. At the time I was bidding a project for Intel called the Intel Reader to a number of different design firms in Silicon Valley. Lunar won the bid because of the people. Over my three years of working with the team there, I understood what Robert had built, namely the team.

    I found Robert to be thoughtful, to listen, to respond honestly and always to bring his wisdom and touch for making things to bear. He always included people and drew them into a conversation that made the work he was doing better. The specific product he helped build is now helping thousands of students and adults in the United States. If each blind person who uses the Intel Reader, or each person with a specific learning disability, like me, could know that part of the DNA of that device came from Robert Howard, they would all want to say thank you to him and to everyone who loved him.

    I personally benefited from his mentorship. It’s rare that you have a vendor mentor you, but Robert did. Not only did he give me advice, but he told me why he was giving me that advice and coached me on how to apply that advice in other situations. I also saw his wisdom reflected in the judgment of everyone who works for him, Gretchen Anderson, Krista Bangshund, Matt Peterson and all of the other designers and engineers he influenced.

    I’ve never met a member of Robert’s family, but I have to believe that they bear a large part of the responsibility for his steady hand, his caring and thoughtful way and they should feel proud for the legacy he left. He, his wife and their children, will be missed.

  54. It was with such shock and sorrow I read about this tragic news recently. I knew Robert from our Stanford days and years beyond. He was a warm and generous friend, incredibly funny, smart as a whip, with such a positive view on life. I also had the privilege of meeting Ana-Maria and seeing her occasionally in parks and baby-friendly venues as we both had young children. My sincerest sympathies and prayers go out to your family for this incredible loss.

  55. I still want to send you an email asking your opinion on some mechanical or electrical problem, or some band, some movie, or just to recall some stupid thing we did together, some silly phrase you used to repeat. Still…

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