Remembering Robert Van Valkinburgh

IDSA Life Member and Former Xerox ID Director Passes at Age 89

Oct 14 2015 - 10:59am

An IDSA Life member who was part of Xerox’s first, in-house, industrial design group has passed away. 89-year-old Robert Van Valkinburgh of Pittsford, NY was known as "Bob" or "Van" to friends and family. He died peacefully on Oct. 5, 2015. 

Van Valkinburgh left quite an impression on two industrial designers who came under his wing at Xerox, soon after earning their college degrees. In fact, Steve Meister and Rick Burns began working for Van Valkinburgh on the same day. Meister recalls his ID director "had created a robust, diverse team of entry level to seasoned designers. The environment was open, communicative and collaborative.... It was truly a wonderful place for a new ID graduate.  With his calm, nurturing style and design experience, Van shaped this environment."

Meister also says the designers and Xerox ID/HF organization were extremely involved in their respective, professional associations, specifically IDSA. "We were encouraged to attend national/regional and local meetings and to actively participate.... Van (and his generation!) truly believed in 'giving back' and that designers had a responsibility to take an active role in the growth, voice and role of ID."

Burns eventually became Van Valkinburgh's son-in-law. He shares some fond memories of his professional and personal relationship with Van Valkinburgh. “As a boss, he was always asking the question “What if?” to push you to explore new and different ideas. He was always concerned about making sure that you were on the right track and was instrumental in my achievements while I was at Xerox and after.”

“When we stayed at Bob and Ruth’s house, he was always the first one up and had coffee and a newspaper in front of him…. A very caring and compassionate person, always asking, ‘Can I get something for you?” or “Would you like something to eat?’…. He and Ruth were great parents (to four children) and loving grandparents (to six grandchildren)…. As a WWII veteran, he was a true American.  I believe he served as an airplane mechanic working on B-17s.” recalls Burns, who adds that Van Valkinburgh collected antiques and model trains and restored model cars and trucks. He was also a birdwatcher, gardener, history buff and community volunteer.

Van Valkinburgh joined Syracuse University's industrial design program and Sigma Phi Epsilon and became an Alpha Xi Alpha Design Honoree. He worked at Ansco Corp. and Remington Rank Univac before joining Xerox as a senior engineer in 1966, soon after the company introduced the first, desktop copier that used plain paper.

Van Valkinburgh earned management positions in communications products and information technology and retired from Xerox in 1984. He held two design patents through Univac and Xerox. In 1977, Van Valkinburgh earned an MFA from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where he later taught his distinct design logic to RIT ID students.

"Bob loved to meet new people and whenever possible experience new opportunities," says his family. "He was a vibrant individual, loved by many, and will be sadly missed by all who knew him."