Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

The Great Builder

Frank Stork
by Frank Stork

by Frank Stork

A man born in Missouri nearly 87 years ago passed away at a hospital in Alexandria, Va., on June 23, 2003.

Bob Partridge, a champion of rural electrification, succumbed after fighting a long and courageous battle against leukemia.

He was a builder of good things. He had become known across this country and indeed around the world as a man dedicated to the well-being of others. Partridge not only worked to electrify rural America, he had gained informal recognition as “electrification personified.”

His leadership style was often compared to the quiet waters that run deep in a powerful and fast-moving stream. He could bring diverse groups together for the common good through firm but gentle persuasion. He could do that because of his word that held great trust. He fought for the good of the least of us because he knew that success would bring rewards to all of us.

His quiet but firm determination to fight for what was right overcame the louder and sometimes threatening challenges of those who would take an easier road.

Bob Partridge speaks at the 1970 annual meeting of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The man known as "rural electrification personified" died June 23.

Bob Partridge led the nation's electric cooperatives as general manager of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association from 1968 to 1984. Prior to that, he had served on the staff for seven years. His career at NRECA followed a 15-year stint at the Rural Electrification Administration in Washington, D.C.

In the early years of his career as an REA employee and later as NRECA's senior legislative representative, Partridge built a solid reputation for honesty and candor in our nation’s capital. He enjoyed considerable respect from all who served in the United States Congress throughout his brilliant career.

Bob was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves in 1938 and was married that same year to Georgiann Dickey. He saw action as a reconnaissance officer and tank commander for three years in the South Pacific during World War II. Among the many decorations he received were the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star. He was called back into action during the Korean Conflict for a two-year stint and remained active in the Reserves until his retirement in 1976 as a major general.

In 1983 the University of Missouri-Columbia, his alma mater, conferred an honorary doctor of science degree on him. Shortly after, the university created an endowed professorship in agricultural economics named in his honor. The Robert D. Partridge Chair was established in 1989. The department has come to be recognized around the world for its leadership and innovation in cooperative business models.

He was elected to the Cooperative Hall of Fame as one whose contributions were “truly heroic.” The Consumer Federation of America honored Partridge with its first Phillip Hart Award recognizing the role he played in founding the organization. The Republic of the Philippines honored him in 1983 with a special medal for providing electric service to rural parts of the islands. His home county elected him to the Nodaway County Hall of Fame in 1978.

There are millions of people in our great country and around the world who may not have met Bob Partridge. Nevertheless, these same people benefit from his lifetime’s work. The anonymity of Partridge, for a large part, is due to the fact that he was truly a great leader who was quick to push praise and recognition away from him and onto those he worked with.

He was a builder of trust, a builder of coalitions, a builder of consensus and a builder of economic expansion for rural America. In his memory, we dedicate this issue of Rural Missouri to Bob Partridge, “The Great Builder,” for his outstanding contributions to our state and nation during his lifetime of good works.

Stork was executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and a member of Three Rivers Electric Co-op.

 

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