• Tributes to Dick Robbins

    Leaders of the international tunnelling industry speak to TunnelTalk of their recollections and remembrances of Dick Robbins as the innovator of the modern tunnel boring machines and as an industry statesman.

    See the video tributes on the Feedback page and at the bottom of this article. Add your thoughts, tributes and recollections via our Feedback service or via an email.

Obituary 14 Jun 2019

Dick Robbins 1933-2019

After a career lifetime dedicated to the development of mechanized TBM tunnel excavation and the advancement of the company that his father founded in 1952, Richard James Robbins, President and CEO of The Robbins Company from 1958 to 1993 and known to everyone as Dick, died on Thursday 30 May.

Dick Robbins 1933-2019
Dick Robbins 1933-2019

Dick was widely regarded in the international tunneling industry. He built The Robbins Company into an industry leader, from the early double shield machines to modern-day disc cutters for hard rock, to his notable TBM innovations for the Channel Tunnel project to connect the UK and France and filed 11 US patents and 56 foreign patents in the field of underground mechanical excavation. In 2009 he was the recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Engineering for his contributions. He accomplished all of this after taking over the company at the age of 25 following the untimely death of his father James S Robbins in a plane crash.

“In 1968 when I first had the chance to work for what was then known as James S Robbins Co, I did not fully appreciate that I was getting a chance to work with the greatest innovator in the tunneling industry,” said Lok Home, current owner, President and CEO of The Robbins Company. “Dick was a great mentor as a boss and as a person. He was always pushing the limits of what could be done with TBMs. His integrity, energy, and passion improved the worldwide tunneling industry, and his creations set many of the industry standards. It has been an honor to further the great name of Robbins in the industry.”

“Dick unselfishly gave back to his industry and to his community,” said consultant Harvey Parker, former President of the ITA (International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association) and long-time friend of the Robbins family. “He was very active in industry professional associations both in the United States and internationally. I was honored to work closely with Dick during his significant involvement in the ITA)where he served on the Executive Council for years, was elected First Vice President, and was a leader for the ITA Working Group on Mechanized Tunnelling.”

Dick Robbins shares his thoughts about the industry

Through his career, Dick was recognized with many awards garnered included numerous honorary degrees, memberships and directorships in a wide variety of organizations ranging from Virginia Mason Medical Center to the Board of Trustees at his alma mater Michigan Technological University. In 1999, the Engineering News-Record selected him as one of the top 125 people of the past 125 years as an equipment innovator who “helped shape this nation and the world.”

Dick recognized the importance of sharing knowledge and experience with colleagues and fellow industry professionals and also through the pages of the industry trade magazines. After starting her career in the world of tunneling in 1982, Shani Wallis, Publisher and Executive Editor of TunnelTalk, remembers the many projects visited and the articles written and published about The Robbins Company and its TBMs. These included Russia’s Severomuiski railway tunnel, started in the 1970s in Siberia, that employed a Robbins TBM for its pilot tunnel headings, the Wanjiazhai Yellow River water supply tunnel in China in 2001, among the first of many Robbins TBMs to be used in China, the Blue Mountains wastewater tunnel near Sydney, Australia, on which a 3.4m diameter Robbins TBM set several advance records through sandstone, and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project in southern Africa where four Robbins TBMs helped excavate more than 80km of water transfer tunnelling beneath the highlands of Lesotho and across the border into South Africa.

“Dick was always generous with his time and his opinions and information whenever interviewed about the industry and the company’s projects,” said Wallis, “He, and his wife Bonnie, always had a warm welcome whenever we met at the many annual conferences and ITA World Tunnel Congresses around the world.”

Dick receives the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Medal for engineering innovation
Dick (left) and Lok Home celebrate 60 years of The Robbins Company

As well as his contributions to the international tunneling industry, Dick was also well known in Seattle for his active involvement in community organizations and sports. “Dick was a wonderful family man,” said Parker. “He was a great personal and professional friend who was always charming and pleasant. He designed and lived in his own innovative floating home (houseboat) on Lake Union and was an avid and very competitive sailor who designed a state-of-the-art sailboat in which he raced worldwide in races such as the famous Sydney-Hobart race. Dick was also very active and competitive in water sports, particularly in rowing crew races. Dick will be sorely missed, not only by those of us in the tunneling industry but also by those in the many other fields of endeavor that he touched during his active life.”

During his last days, Dick was surrounded by his family in the family home city of Seattle, Washington State in USA, and is survived by his wife Bonnie, son Jim and daughter Jennifer.



Tributes to Dick Robbins

Lok Home, President and CEO of The Robbins Company, recalls his personal association with Dick Robbins
Jamal Rostami of the Colorado School of Mines remembers Dick Robbins and suggests a scholarship in his memory

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