Bob Gervais might have gotten his start in government work as a rocket scientist, but by the time he got to Cal Poly, the Santa Maria retiree specialized in intelligence.
Since becoming a special assistant to the athletic director in 2005, among other duties, Gervais made a figurative living dealing in information, helping the Mustangs form a strategic plan for the future by researching the ever-changing world of conference realignment.
“He did some nice things in terms of helping us research conference realignment,” Cal Poly athletic director Don Oberhelman said, “knowing what everybody else was up to and where they wanted to go.”
Gervais, 78, died of natural causes July 19, passing away in his sleep.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Tribune
As a volunteer, Gervais wasn’t paid by the Mustangs, but his services were invaluable.
Though Cal Poly was rumored to be a candidate for moving into the Football Bowl Subdivision and joining the Western Athletic Conference, the Mustangs ended up finding a stable home staying put in the Football Championship Subdivision and joining the Big Sky Conference as Gervais worked behind the scenes.
Cal Poly begins play in the Big Sky this upcoming season.
“We knew he always was a go-to-guy to help us with little projects and things that needed some time and effort and energy,” Oberhelman said. “And he was going to be very thoughtful in his approach to everything. He was a brilliant guy.”
With both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in aeronautical and nuclear engineering and astronautics from Notre Dame, Gervais served a stint in the U.S. Air Force before practicing engineering in the private and public sectors in aviation, space exploration and terrestrial renewable energy domains, according to his Cal Poly bio.
A Notre Dame supporter, Gervais was born in New York City and raised in the Bronx, but when he settled in Santa Maria in retirement, he began attending Cal Poly athletic events.
Supporting athletic programs as a spectator, Gervais became acquainted with then-Cal Poly athletic director Alison Cone.
“He found himself with time and was looking to be used in a productive way,” said Cone, who retired in 2010. “He had some skills that we could use. I was very excited to have him help us out.”
Gervais also helped secure contracts for football games at a time when the program needed to schedule up to seven nonconference games per season. He took a particular leadership role in securing a 2013 home football game against Yale, which has only traveled to California twice since the program’s inception in 1872.
The Bulldogs travel to Alex G. Spanos Stadium for the first meeting between the two programs Oct. 5, 2013.
Gervais will not be there to see it, but his contributions will still be felt.
“He had an exceptionally analytical mind,” Cone said, “and so he was able to be very useful and productive in kind of combining his general knowledge of athletics and then when he would research something, he would be very thorough, and he was very good.
“I am very grateful to have worked with Bob. He was an incredible man.”