Getting to know: The inventor next door

by Don Bingham

Occasionally we all are privileged to cross paths with people who dwell in realms beyond our comprehension. Perhaps they are an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, inventors or an artist, often brilliant in their pursuits and contributions to humanity. Or you might even meet a foundational pillar in the world of “metallurgy.”

Conway has a returning resident – a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas (Arkansas State Teachers College at the time) – Ellen Roberts and her husband, George Roberts, who have returned to make Conway one of their three residences.

The fact that Ellen Roberts has family in Conway, along with George’s love for what he calls Conway’s wonderful “village” atmosphere, brought them back to the 501.

It is difficult to know where to start, but George’s humble beginning was a real indication of what the future might hold as he was reading at age 5 on a second grade level and admitted to school for a starting point in the second grade!

He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, entered Carnegie Tech in 1939 as a junior, received his B.S. the same year and completed his M.S. and D.Sc. in 1942. In 1966 he became president of Teledyne, Inc. and served as chairman from 1991-93.

As a golf associate of President George W. Bush Sr., golf partner of President Ronald Reagan, a life-long friend of Arnold Palmer and friend of Bob Hope and the Bob Hope Desert Golf Classic, George has led a most interesting and high-energy life. And, oh yes, he is a collector of French impressionist art in his spare time!

What in the world is metallurgy? Metallurgy is the science and technology that studies metals, especially the processes used in extracting metals from their ores. George has a doctorate in metallurgy from Carnegie Mellon University and worked with alloys used in critical aerospace, industrial and nuclear applications. In 1966, he and his friend, Henry Singleton, each with their own company, merged to produce Teledyne.

When it comes to George’s legacy, we have only just begun! Eighty-three scholarships have been awarded to students attending 42 different U.S. universities from endowed scholarships created in his honor, and the scholarships continue producing graduate after graduate each year. His personal donation of $1 million to a matching educational fund did not stop there – his love for education also led to the $6 million dollar lead gift that was the realization of the George A. Roberts Engineering Hall at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.

He has been honored by the National Conference on Christians and Jews for distinguished service in the field of human relations and by the Great Western Council of the Boy Scouts of America with the 1984 Americanism Award.

“Polybus has written that ‘those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories,’” George said.

This might explain why he was president of one of the most diversified of the Fortune 500 companies – Teledyne – which has spanned aviation and electronics, machinery and metals and energy and power and manufactured a variety of products that make our lives happier and healthier, such as swimming pool equipment and oral hygiene appliances.

Certainly not the last of his philanthropy was the establishment of The Acres – a Dressage Training Facility – a Mediterranean style ranch surrounded by lemon groves bordering 8,500 acres of state parkland available for trail riding in California. The facility provides to the dressage enthusiast (dressage is the process of guiding a horse through a series of complex maneuvers by slight movements of the rider’s hands, legs and weight) a wide range of programs personalized to meet equestrian needs. The Acres imports young, quality sport horses from Europe that have super ride ability, temperaments and gaits. The horses are well suited for either amateur or professional riders.

George is married to Ellen Roberts, a former Conway resident who also has a most colorful background in travel and exposure to the arts. She is a great entertainer and loves Conway. Between their homes in California, Dallas and Conway, Ellen still finds time to entertain family and friends.

Ellen shared with me that each morning the first thing George asks is, “Now what can I do to make your life better?” She also admits that the two most important factors in George’s life and their lives together have been their love for matters of health and learning.

They both adhere to a strict diet of fish, fruits and vegetables with dessert only “once a month.” After a time of courtship and marriage became evident for George and Ellen, she asked George if he thought they should wait a while longer before making that final move to marriage. George replied, “If you wait for that, we’ll never be married!”

When I asked Ellen to describe George, her words were “humble, caring, brilliant and always kind.”

There is more I could write. For example, George received the very first Apple computer ever made, was instrumental in the creation of the first landing module on the moon, speaks German, Spanish and French, and still works in his office five hours a day!

The 501 LIFE area has so many wonderful people. You never know who may be your next-door neighbor – he could be the world’s leading authority on metallurgy!