Mesa Musings: Dr. Bob sure was one cool dude for OCC

He's the most beloved president in Orange Coast College's 64-year history.

Robert B. Moore led the institution for 18 years, from 1964 until his retirement in 1982. His low-key, informal approach, coupled with an extraordinary intellect, played a key role in fashioning the institution's unique ethos.

I worked for him for 11 years.

Faculty, staff and students adored Moore. He was universally known as "Dr. Bob." A student in the late-1970s labeled him "that cool old dude." The phrase found its way into a headline in the school's newspaper, and the label stuck.

Under his leadership, OCC became a national trendsetter.

Dr. Bob passed away eight years ago at the age of 86.

Moore joined the staff as dean of instruction in 1960, and became OCC's third president in July 1964. The secret to his success was that he hired talented and motivated people, and then stepped aside and let them be successful.

Serving as president during the college's peak growth years, Moore hired more staff members — by far — than any other OCC president.

During his 18 years at the helm, OCC grew 10-fold in size: from a sleepy campus of 3,200 students in 1964 to a booming institution of more than 30,000 in 1982.

Moore hired me in 1971 to be the college's community relations director. During my second year I faced a significant public relations dilemma. I sought Dr. Bob's assistance. Actually, what I wanted was for him to tell me what to do.

I sat in his office one afternoon and laid out the problem as I saw it. Upon finishing my carefully crafted assessment, I waited expectantly for Bob's wise counsel.

Silence.

Not a word was spoken for several awkward moments, then Bob cleared his throat and began discussing something completely unrelated to the topic of our meeting.

Finally, he consulted his watch. "Oops, gotta go, Jim" he said. "Thanks for stopping by."

Bemused, I shook his hand and left.

"He didn't give me an answer," I mumbled, scratching my head as I returned to my office.

Then it dawned on me. Dr. Bob had provided an answer all right, though not the one I was looking for. In effect, he said, "Jim, I hired you to make difficult decisions. Here's one of them. Let's see what you can do with it."

For me, it was a seminal moment.

On the occasion of his retirement in 1982, OCC's auditorium was renamed the Robert B. Moore Theatre. The naming commemorated his dedication to the college and his passion for its performing arts program. He rarely missed an OCC music, dance or theater production.

My wife, Hedy, and I and our three daughters stopped in Medford, Ore., on three or four occasions after Bob and his wife, Pat, retired there. We always allocated one night to stay at their lovely farm, but were never able to get away with that.

Bob would insist that we stay a second night — and even a third! We could never tell him no.

The son of a former Arizona State senator, Moore received his bachelor's degree from the University of Redlands and master's degree at Northern Arizona University. He earned a doctorate at Stanford.

A naval aviator in World War II, Moore taught history and English, and was track and field coach at Flagstaff High School for nine years. He taught history for a year at Northern Arizona University, and served as an associate director for the Ford Foundation.

After moving to Costa Mesa in 1960, Moore became active in numerous civic organizations. He served as a member of the board of trustees — and later as director — of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, and was chairman of the Costa Mesa Development Committee.

He was named Costa Mesa's Outstanding Citizen in 1972, and OCC's Citizen of the Year in 1987. He was a member of the Newport-Mesa Lions Club for more than two decades.

Dr. Bob was a vital member of this community … and one cool dude!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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