On Friday 27 September, UNSW BE said farewell to a former colleague and friend Professor Bob Zehner.

Associate Professor Susan Thompson provided these words of reflection.

"I am humbled and honoured to speak today about Bob Zehner – to me: a friend, colleague, mentor and teacher.

I met Bob some 25 years ago – as a PhD student seeking a co-supervisor for my doctoral studies.  I needed someone who understood the use of qualitative methods at a time when there was little appreciation of the value of this approach in the built environment.  Bob understood, which spoke to his appreciation of the breadth of social research techniques.  He was a wonderful thesis supervisor.  I remember our first meeting – in his office in the OMB – his earnest consideration of my work, his desire to help and his willingness to take on yet another task.  Later on as my boss, Bob lent a practical hand by giving me some teaching relief to undertake my in-depth and time consuming research interviews. I know full well that had he not given me that help, I would never have completed my PhD.

I worked closely with Bob (in the different roles that I took on) throughout the years of the School of Town Planning and then the Planning and Urban Development Program in the one School Faculty that we later became and continue today.

Bob was legendary for his meticulous eye for detail.  His late night and early morning emails – closely typed text of issues raised points (sometimes inconvenient ones) that many of us would rather overlook – but not Bob!  He raised those issues – without fear or favour – and showed his dedication to the University, the Faculty and most importantly of all, to our planning discipline and teaching excellence.

I last saw Bob at the Australian Opera a couple of months ago – he was sitting a few rows behind me.  We talked as we left the performance, Bob still enjoying his life despite the difficulties that he had with getting around and his declining health. A few months before that we met at his and Ruth’s home and spent time sitting in their beautiful garden talking about all sorts of things – reminiscing about how life at UNSW had changed, about the importance of teaching and dedication to scholarship. And much more.

I’d like to finish with some words from alumnus Cygal Pellach who graduated with her BTP in 2008.  I recently met up with Cygal at an international planning congress in Dublin.  Cygal now lives, works and studies in Israel.  Here is what she emailed me upon hearing that Bob had died:

“Bob has truly been one of the best and most inspiring teachers in my academic career to date. His enthusiasm for the subjects he taught, his emphasis on learning and his "no-nonsense" (with a smile) approach, all pushed me to do my best.  I have carried the knowledge and skills that I learned from him with me throughout my professional and academic careers and will continue to do so.”

Bob touched countless lives - particularly those of planners who studied and worked at UNSW and are now scattered throughout Australia and across the globe.  He was a wonderful teacher, a generous and dedicated academic and a really lovely person. 

Thank you Bob for being part of our lives and for your legacy to planning, which will continue for a long time to come."


Bob Zehner Obituary: Skilled educator fostered excellence in teaching profession