Professor remembered as advocate for Bates


LEWISTON – Robert F. Kingsbury, who chaired the physics department at Bates College for 14 years, was remembered Saturday as a professor who cared deeply about the younger faculty members and the even-younger students.

Kingsbury, 93, died Thursday at the Lamp Residential Care Facility in Lisbon. He died of heart failure, his daughter, Martha Bate, said Saturday. For years Kingsbury lived on Vale Street in Lewiston, close to the college.

The son of a Cornell professor, Kingsbury grew up in Ithaca, N.Y. After graduating from Bowdoin College, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, Kingsbury taught at Trinity College.

He came to Bates from Trinity in 1964, to head the physics department. At that time, the college was expanding, hiring a good number of professors, said Bates physics professor John (Jack) Pribram, who worked with Kingsbury.

Kingsbury and his wife, Mary, were gracious, warm and friendly, Pribram said Saturday. At the start of each year, Kingsbury invited new professors and seniors to his home, allowing everyone to get to know each other.

“It got us off to a wonderful start,” Pribram said. “He was very welcoming to us. … He was a real part of the college. He really believed in the idea of a small college.”

In 1968 Pribram, then 29, was interviewed by Kingsbury and hired as a physics professor. Kingsbury also interviewed George Ruff, who was hired as another physics teacher. Pribram said he was struck by how Kingsbury, an older professor, was admired by younger faculty members.

“Younger professors identified with him,” he said. “He was very open-minded about a lot of policies … he was open to new ideas.” Kingsbury advocated for professors to have medical leave, which they eventually received. Previously, “You had to fight for it,” Pribram said.

In class, Kingsbury had a different teaching style, one to prod students to generate their own ideas.

While professors often filled class time with prepared lectures, “He wanted the students to generate questions, which would frustrate some students,” Pribram said. “He wanted to go in and have them have done the reading, and have questions for him.”

At Bates, Kingsbury wrote a physics text the college used for a while. That was unusual, Pribram said, explaining that in physics most colleges and universities use the same, standard textbooks. Kingsbury’s physics text was more progressive. His text provided students with a better overview of the field, Pribram said. That style still influences how physics is taught at the college today, he added.

Kingsbury underwent difficult times when his lost his wife of 50 years, Mary. “They were totally devoted to each other,” Pribram said.

After retiring in 1978, Kingsbury often visited Bates. “He never moved. He lived a block away,” Pribram said. He often attended or spoke at lectures, as well as going to concerts and plays.

After retirement, he enjoyed woodworking, “a lot of golf” and traveling to visit his grown children, his daughter said.

He leaves four children, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and lots of physics books at Bates.