Robert C. Carlson, a professor in the School of Engineering for more than four decades, died Sept. 6 in Palo Alto. The cause of death was leukemia. He was 72.

Robert Carlson portrait

Robert Carlson was remembered as an enthusiastic educator and researcher.

Carlson was born in Granite Falls, Minn., on Jan. 17, 1939. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Cornell in 1962, followed by a master’s degree in operations research in 1963 and a doctorate in mathematical sciences in 1976, both at Johns Hopkins University.

From 1962 to 1970, Carlson worked at Bell Labs in Holmdel, N.J., where he was a member of the technical staff in the Operations Analysis and Economic Studies Department.

He came to Stanford in 1970, serving until this year. His primary areas of interest in both teaching and research were production and capacity planning; new product development; manufacturing strategy; and sustainable product design, development and manufacturing. Carlson served two stints as chairman of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management, first in 1987-88 and again from 1992 to 1993.

In addition to his professorship in the School of Engineering, Carlson taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He held visiting faculty positions at the University of California-Berkeley, at the Amos Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College and at the International Management Institute in Geneva, Switzerland.

Among his prouder achievements, Carlson was a recipient of the prestigious Stanford School of Engineering Tau Beta Pi Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and, by student and alumni vote, the Eugene L. Grant Teaching Award.

Carlson authored some 60 articles and technical reports. He created and conducted numerous executive seminars in the United States, England, Germany, Switzerland, Puerto Rico, Japan, Spain and Canada. “In all these executive classes he was well known for his ability to stimulate class discussion, as well as his very lively sense of humor,” said a Stanford colleague, Warren Hausman.

Carlson was enthusiastic about his calling. “Some people believe that being involved in manufacturing means being in a dirty shop room. On the whole, a lot of people don’t understand manufacturing, but if they did, they would be more interested,” he told the San Jose Mercury News.

“Bob helped the Stanford Department of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management grow from a traditional industrial engineering department into a more broadly focused department that helped to redefine the field,” said Margaret Brandeau, another engineering colleague.

“On the personal side, Bob had a great deal of joie de vivre,” she said. “He particularly enjoyed fine wine and travel to France. If he brought the wine to a faculty event, we knew it would be really good.”

Carlson is survived by his wife, Judith Kincaid of Palo Alto; sons Brian Carlson of Truckee, Calif., and Andy Carlson of Bellevue, Neb.; his stepdaughter, Jennifer Warkentin, and her family of Chandler, Ariz.; and his sisters Vicki Wiltgen of Minneapolis and Barbara Coffin of Los Angeles. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Christina Carlson Viotti.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Stanford Memorial Church. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.

Andrew Myers is associate director of communications at the School of Engineering.