Robert Foster Birney died on Sept. 25, 2018 at his Oak Park home, surrounded by friends and his wife, Hilda, just short of their 50th wedding anniversary. Thus ended his heroic three-year battle against pulmonary fibrosis. Born on Oct. 19, 1940 in Freeport, Ohio, he helped his father run the ancestral family farm, which evolved into a large-scale turkey ranch. It was during these early years that he developed his remarkable ability to fix anything and everything — a skill that made him the “just ask Bob” resource for his neighbors and friends.
In 1962, he graduated with a degree in journalism from Kent State University, where he served as vice-president of the Student Council for three years, president of the Interfraternity Council and chair of the Student Faculty Union. While a student, he also worked part-time as a reporter and photographer at the university and for several area newspapers. With a Kent State scholarship and graduate assistantship, he went on to study political science at the University of Vermont. He later held a full-time position there in Institutional Research. This led to a post at SUNY Albany, New York, where he launched his lifelong career in designing computer-based information systems.
While in New York, he served in the National Guard and met his future wife, Hilda. They were married in 1969 and the couple settled in Oak Park in 1972 where he held leadership positions at DePaul University, American Hospital Supply-Baxter International, Phillip Morris-Kraft Inc., and was a consultant for Deloitte & Touche, managing a broad range of corporate and government engagements, locally and nationally.
Soon after moving to Oak Park, the couple bought an E.E. Roberts house, surrounded by gardens they developed over the years. After retirement, he became more and more engaged in the garden and single-handedly created a large koi pond that was featured one year on the annual Oak Park-River Forest Garden Walk. He later converted it to an eco-friendly water retention reservoir. When a 100-plus-year-old elm tree died in his back yard, he created a 12 x 12-foot pergola to provide shaded seating.
He loved to travel, was an avid reader, news follower (especially the NY Times) and stock trader. Feeding his lifelong knowledge and inquisitiveness in how things worked, he was a relentless collector of hand tools and found objects that he restored or repurposed. Socially, he was a mesmerizingly humorous storyteller.
Robert Birney is survived by his wife, Hilda, and his brother, Stanley.
A memorial service will be held on Nov. 2 at Oak Park’s Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home with visitation at 3 p.m. and service at 5 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations are appreciated to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, 230 E. Ohio St., Suite 500, Chicago 60611 and www.pulmonaryfibrosis.org or to the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory, P.O. Box 1096, Oak Park 60304 (www.FOPCON.org/donate), or to a charity of your choice.