Robert M. Olton

B.S., Psychology, 1959
Wall of Honor inductee, 2015

Robert M. Olton, Jr., known as “Bob” to many, was born in Dover, New Jersey, and was eager to return to the Northeast to attend Trinity College after growing up in the deep South in Richmond, Virginia. One dark, snowy night on campus under the twinkling stars convinced him to call Trinity his home for four years. Bob was an active undergraduate at Trinity, participating in the band, Glee Club, Psychology Club, and Canterbury Club (an Episcopal Church organization). He also held the positions of vice president of the Guild of Carilloneurs, and was a senior mentor, junior advisor, Psi Chi secretary, and Delta Phi treasurer. 

Upon graduating in 1959 with a B.S. in psychology, Bob obtained a master’s degree from McGill University in Montreal, and a Ph.D. in psychology from UC Berkeley, where he accepted a faculty position and taught for over a decade. Bob reinvented his career beyond academia as a visiting research scientist at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the early ’80s, where he was involved with early research that led to the development of laptops. He likened a laptop to the tin box he used to use as a lunchbox as a kid, saying, “We’re inventing a computer that can be carried around anywhere, like a lunchbox.” Bob went on to serve as manager of behavioral research at Atari and assistant vice president of research at Wells Fargo Bank. His work on international protocol for cargo vessels entering ports of call took him to destinations around the world, such as Thailand and Africa.  

Bob was a generous supporter of his alma mater and in 2013 he established the Robert M. Olton ’59 Scholarship Fund. The fund benefits academically promising students, with preference given to those in the fields of science, engineering or mathematics. Although he looked back fondly on his time at Trinity, Bob also once noted that “freshman physics still comes alive in nightmares.”

Robert Coykendall ’59, one of Bob’s classmates at Trinity, described Mr. Olton as “the most positive and enthusiastic man I have known. He seemed to be excited by everything. He would talk for hours about a horizon's breadth of subjects, all in an excited, awed manner as if he had just learned about them. Lucky were those who knew him.”
Bob passed away on March 25, 2014, in Danville, California.