Aileen W. Tobin, who worked for nearly three decades at the Aberdeen Proving Ground's Ordnance Center and School and earlier had conducted research in the field of early reading in children, died Aug. 26 of heart failure at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
The longtime Canton resident was 64.
"I told her all the time that she was my yardstick and the finest civilian I've ever worked with in 26 years in the Army. I thought the world of her," said Col. Daniel Riley, who had been brigade commander of the 61st Ordnance Brigade and the Army Ordnance Mechanical Maintenance School at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"She was a compassionate visionary who cared about the civilians, Army and our contractors that we worked with. She was a divergent and creative thinker," said Colonel Riley, who is now director of installation logistics at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. "And when you got her behind closed doors to discuss a matter, she'd always say, 'What's best for the people?' "
The daughter of a farmer and a seamstress, Aileen Webb was born in Milford, Del., and raised in Ellendale, Del., and Milton, Del.
After graduating from Milton High School in 1967, she earned a bachelor's degree in 1971 in English and American studies from the University of Delaware.
In 1975, she earned a master's degree in reading education and a doctorate in learning, curriculum and instruction, both from the University of Delaware.
From 1971 to 1974, Dr. Tobin was director of the Delaware Tutoring Center.
"In addition to supervising the staff, she was proud of the fact that she taught so many people to read, including one man in his 50s that had never learned to read," said her husband of 42 years, Thomas J. Tobin, who is retired from the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn, where he had been the assistant commissioner of the communications office.
Dr. Tobin later served as a consultant to the Center for Educational Leadership, University of Delaware; Dorchester County Board of Education; and Research for Better Schools Inc. in Philadelphia.
She was the author of chapters in three books on reading and reading research, with additional work having been published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities and Reading Research Quarterly.
In 1982, Dr. Tobin began her service at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School at Aberdeen Proving Ground as an educational specialist in the analysis and standardization division of the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization.
She graduated in 1992 from the Army Staff Management College in Alexandria, Va.
"If you had told me 12 years ago I would be working for the military. I would have given you a blank stare," Dr. Tobin told an Aegis reporter in a 1993 profile.
Dr. Tobin eventually became the first female chief to lead a major directorate at APG in 1993 when she was named head of the Directorate of Quality Assurance, formerly the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization, where she started her civilian Army career.
"I believe it puts a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. If you're male or female, first, second or third or 30th person [holding down the job], you have a real obligation to set up an example to develop and pursue a vision for the organization," Dr. Tobin said in the Aegis interview.
Dr. Tobin's role was to evaluate the quality and impact of training through observation, studies and interviewing graduates of those courses to see if they had been adequately prepared for their new jobs.
"Her doctorate was very critical when it came to talking about an adult learning model and its objectives for the military and the cognitive way people learn," said Colonel Riley. "She brought a higher-education view when it came, for instance, to teaching a welder or a mechanic. Aileen was always trying to make the Army education system better."
Colonel Riley said Dr. Tobin accomplished her goals without being confrontational.
"She helped us find a better way of doing things. She was very personable, yet very driven. All of the things you look for in a leader," he said.
Dr. Tobin eventually rose to become deputy to Colonel Riley, who said she had played a pivotal role in planning and executing the move of the 61st Ordnance Brigade and Army Ordnance Mechanical Maintenance School from Fort Belvoir in Virginia to Aberdeen.
"Soldiers and classrooms, you name it: Aileen took care of it," he said.
Other accomplishments during her years at APG included establishing and directing in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the Ordnance Center Emergency Operations Center, which was responsible for overseeing 113,000 personnel performing mechanical and electronic maintenance, ammunition and munitions management, and explosive ordnance disposal throughout the world.
Dr. Tobin retired in 2010. Two years later, she was inducted into the Army Ordnance Hall of Fame, which recognizes the achievements of those who have made significant contributions to the Ordnance Corps. She was the 14th woman to be so honored.
Dr. Tobin, who had lived at Anchorage Tower in Canton, was a world traveler and especially liked visiting her favorite beaches at Maui, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Rehoboth Beach, Del. She was also a Ravens fan.
A celebration of Dr. Tobin's life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Short Funeral Home, 416 Federal St., Milton, Del.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by a sister, Darlene Rust of Milton, Del.; and several nieces and nephews.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun