Bob Matthews, 1933-2019

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Robert A. “Bob” Matthews, the last president of Railway Supply Institute (RSI) predecessor Railway Progress Institute (RPI), died Aug. 7, 2019, in Bowie, Md. He was 85.

Matthews joined RPI in 1964 when it was a Chicago-based organization, and was tasked with moving it to Washington, D.C. He was named President in the early 1980s and continued in that role until his retirement in early 2002, which was the catalyst for the RPI merging with the Railway Supply Association (RSA) to form RSI.

Matthews was born in Oak Park, Ill., on Nov. 1, 1933. He graduated from Steinmetz Academic Centre in Chicago in 1951. He worked in the railroad industry his entire career, initially as a chemist with the Chicago & North Western.

“Bob was arguably the face of the railway supply industry and led lobbying efforts against big trucks and coal slurry pipelines, among other industry-threatening issues,” said former RSI President Thomas D. Simpson, who succeeded Matthews in 2002. “Under his leadership, RPI argued for increased investment in passenger rail as well as advanced train control systems, and led the supply quality assurance effort. During his tenure, RPI, Amtrak and the Association of American Railroads created Operation Lifesaver, Inc., saving that important educational organization after it had been cut loose from the National Safety Council. Also during his tenure, the American Railway Car Institute and Coupler Institute were merged into RPI. Finally, Bob gently and calmly presided over the RPI Annual Dinner.

“Almost 20 years later, Bob’s legacy remains reflected by RSI’s strong Washington lobbying effort, the ARCI, Quality and Coupler committees, and most important, by two wonderful RSI employees he hired—Robyn Leach and Nicole Brewin—who are still serving the RSI membership to this day.”

Matthews is survived by his wife Jessie, whom he married in 1952; children Robert Matthews III, Nancy Breslin, Carole Vogel, Richard Matthews and Linda Smith; 12 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

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