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Robert Yaeger, Civil Air Patrol leader and former Globe systems manager, dies at 77

Mr. Yaeger helped usher The Boston Globe into the computer era.
Mr. Yaeger helped usher The Boston Globe into the computer era.

Whether solving a computer problem as a systems manager at The Boston Globe, commanding the Plymouth-based Civil Air Patrol squadron, or constructing his backyard fish pond from scratch, Bob Yaeger was up to the task.

“The Globe was lucky to have him as it transitioned to computerization in the 1970s,” said Thomas Mulvoy, a former Globe managing editor. “Bob was the answer man and the solution man for the newsroom staff and particularly for the editors on the copy and production desks at night.”

Mulvoy added that Mr. Yaeger’s discipline, knowledge, attention to detail, along with his stability during times of crisis, “made it seem that his job, so perfectly linked to his talents, had been created for him and for the paper.”

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Mr. Yaeger, who was the commanding major with the Civil Air Patrol’s Pilgrim Composite Squadron from 1999 to 2017, died of a heart attack Dec. 28 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Plymouth. He was 77 and had lived in Plymouth since 1980.

Last year, he was serving as the squadron’s deputy commander when he became the regional recipient of the Frank G. Brewer Civil Air Patrol Memorial Aerospace Award, which recognizes “notable contributions to the advancement of youth in aerospace activities.” Mr. Yaeger was also a finalist for the national award.

Plans are underway to rename the squadron in honor of Mr. Yaeger, according to Major Phillip Balboni, his close friend and the Plymouth squadron commander. Mr. Yaeger was “a man of outstanding integrity,” Balboni said.

“Major Yaeger always focused on the positive and on moving forward,” Balboni added. “He took particular enjoyment in public affairs, aerospace education, and in mentoring our cadets to become pilots.”

A son of William C. Yaeger, who had a house-painting business, and the former Wilda Mae Kingsland, Robert William Yaeger grew up in Westlake, Ohio, where he enjoyed attending local air shows.

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Mr. Yaeger graduated from Northeastern University in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in English. He began his Globe career as a Northeastern co-op student and then worked on the night desk prior to his more than 20-year stint as a systems manager. He retired in 2001.

While employed at the Globe, he met Diane Scannell, a nursing school student from Dorchester who was working in the Globe’s cafeteria. They married in 1975.

When Charles Liftman, the Globe’s former director of newsroom technology, was putting together a new team of systems analysts, Mr. Yaeger was one of his recruits in an era when the Atex computer system was being introduced to the newspaper business and typewriters were being phased out.

“Bob was our go-to guy in format writing and he took to it right away,” Liftman recalled. “He modified our computer system as events required, developed forms and charts, and was literally indispensable. Whatever he did, he did to perfection.”

Stephen Kurkjian, a former editor of the Globe’s Spotlight team and a former Washington, D.C., bureau chief, admired Mr. Yaeger’s follow-through.

“Whether it was a complicated fix or just a mundane task,” Kurkjian recalled, “Bob always called the next day to ask in that familiar soft voice, ‘Is everything OK, Steve?’ ”

Mr. Yaeger’s primary role at the Globe was to write computer programs that would format data into a presentable view for the newspaper, and he would always put his “RWY” initials at the bottom of his charts for presidential elections and Boston Marathon results.

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“He would take that raw data and write computer formulas for Atex,” recalled former Globe systems editor Sean Mullin. “The programs Bob created would sort and display the data into a readable format that could be printed in the newspaper.”

Mullin said he considered Mr. Yaeger “a calm, evenhanded computer manager who played a major role in producing The Boston Globe on a daily basis. He was smart and intuitive, and rarely got flustered in a tension-filled, deadline-oriented business.”

In 1984, Mr. Yaeger wrote “A New Approach to Peace,” an op-ed piece for the Globe in which he advocated for a nuclear accord between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“My son [John] is 7 months old and, although it is a little soon to think of it, it is not too early to ensure he has a future,” he wrote.

Mr. Yaeger’s other son, Rob, who works at a fusion research site in Livermore, Calif., said his father was “fond of teaching, mentoring, and inspiring others to be the best they could be, including myself.”

Rob said that when he joined the Navy after college and went into its nuclear program, “Dad expressed his pride in me.”

Toward the end of his Globe career, Mr. Yaeger started a new one with the Civil Air Patrol’s Composite Squadron, based at Plymouth Airport and made up of cadets and senior members.

His work included facilitating an introduction to aerospace education, through which squadron members met pilots and participated in hands-on flying and safety procedures.

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Other duties included teaching them to fly unmanned remote-controlled aircraft, along with offering a basic introduction to rocketry and a summertime competition in building small rockets.

A service has been held for Mr. Yaeger who in addition to his wife, Diane, and son Rob of Tracy, Calif., leaves his son John of Marshfield; his stepmother, Barbara of Westlake, Ohio; his brother, Thomas of Seville, Ohio; and his sisters, Cindy of Westlake and Barbara Cayon of Moreno Valley, Calif.

Captain Benjamin Brown, now an Air Force liaison to the Civil Air Patrol’s Northeast Region, met Mr. Yaeger in 2002, when Brown was a Silver Lake Regional High student and a Plymouth squadron cadet.

“Commander Yaeger was like a father figure. He was gentle enough to let us make our own mistakes, but firm enough to correct us when we went too far,” Brown recalled. “I’ve taken that approach into my Air Force career, and I credit Commander Yaeger for a lot of my success.”

Diane, a health aide for Plymouth schools, said her husband embraced challenge and could always be counted on.

“Bob was always there when colleagues, family, or friends needed him,” she said. “He was thoughtful and had a wry sense of humor, and best of all, he always made me smile.”


Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.