Robert Reece "Bob" Highfill
1939 - 2020
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Robert Reece "Bob" Highfill

Oak Ridge - Robert Reece ("Bob") Highfill, born to Kathryn and Hayward Highfill on July 21st, 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee, passed away peacefully in his home in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on April 22nd, 2020.

Bob and his family, including sister, Dorothy Ann ("Dot"), moved to Humboldt, Tennessee in 1947, where Hayward served as a minister for the First Baptist Church. Bob largely grew up in Humboldt, and got his Bachelor of Science in physics from Union University in 1961. He then went to the University of South Carolina for a Master of Arts in math before joining the Peace Corps in 1964. While in the Peace Corps, Bob taught school and tutored in Malaysia for 2 years - an experience he treasured for the rest of his life. After Malaysia, Bob returned to West Tennessee, bought a baby blue Mustang that matched his eyes, and began teaching at Union University where he met and married Bernadette Gaucher.

Bob and Bernadette moved to Tallahassee, Florida in 1968 where Bob received a Master of Science in physics, and was working on a doctorate in physics when Bernadette became pregnant with their son, Darren Reece Highfill. Bob, Bernadette, and Darren then moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1971 where Bob began his career with EG&G ORTEC. At ORTEC, Bob was instrumental in development of the ECAT scanner - a predecessor to the modern PET scanner and one of the first commercially available machines to provide a view of blood flow through internal organs as an indicator of their health and function vs the static x-ray imagery available at the time. In 1978, Bob joined Elographics - a company with a patent on one of the only ways to manufacture quality touch screens, and led as their VP of Marketing until 1986, after which he pursued a variety of inventions until his retirement in 2004. Bob and Bernadette divorced in 1991.

Bob met Nancy Lain in 2003, and they were married at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Oak Ridge in 2006. In addition to Dot's sons, Shaun and Ward Brown, Bob's extended family included Nancy's sons John and Sam, and John's family, including wife Corinna, and daughters Julia and Jessica. He was very proud of his entire family, and found special joy in his son with wife Jennifer, as well as Nancy's granddaughters, and of course, an amazing bond with his sister, Dot.

He enjoyed a rich life of many dear and close friends - both in the church and around the community of Oak Ridge, frequently hosting and attending dinners and gatherings. Bob was a strongly principled man with firm and high standards, a penchant for philosophy, and a deep respect for success when achieved through integrity, innovation, discipline, and commitment. He inspired rich discussion with his friends from weekly coffee and monthly dinners. He had an open mind and a wonderfully curious spirit. He loved music especially from the craftsman and acoustician's point of view, including classical symphonies, jazz, and fun pursuits into refined and unique sounds. And he had a special fondness for reading the academic publications of his step-daughter, Corinna, on subjects such as the history and positions of the US Supreme Court.

Bob always endeavored to build something to contribute to the betterment of the world. In addition to a highly purposeful selection of career interests, Bob's innovative pursuits over the years included development of a small cyclotron - a machine used to create the mildly radioactive material used in PET scans, a touch screen for an overhead projector - a design for which he received a U.S. Patent in 1990, and an echolocation system designed to supplement GPS such as when under heavy tree cover or indoors.

In later years, he found an outlet for his creative bent through pottery, especially enjoying the beauty and surprise revealed through raku, and garnering multiple spots in the Open Show at the Oak Ridge Art Center. In the most recent years, Bob fought cancer with a fearlessness, grace, and commitment that those who knew him could only respect. He grew special appreciation for his caregiver, Mare Martell, in the later stages of his battle.

Memorial contributions may be made to Rotary International. Holley Gamble Funeral Home in Clinton is in charge of all arrangements.

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Published in Knoxville News Sentinel from Apr. 23 to Apr. 24, 2020.
No memorial events are currently scheduled. To offer your sympathy during this difficult time, you can now have memorial trees planted in a National Forest in memory of your loved one.
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3 entries
April 26, 2020
Our thoughts go out to the Highfill family. Bob was a really special person. We will miss him.
Bonnie Carroll
April 24, 2020
Bob was one of the first people I met in Oak Ridge, and I was always impressed by his deep kindness, ready smile and great attitude. I'm so glad to have been lucky enough to know him.
Dean Cheatham
April 24, 2020
Nancy Donsbach
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