Robert J. Weber, who chaired the political science department at McDaniel College for more than a decade and inspired future lawyers, judges and politicians while seldom giving them A's, died Nov. 12 of cardiac arrest at his home in Westminster. He was 79.
The Chicago-born professor joined the small, liberal arts college in 1969, and spent nearly 30 years instructing students with the rigorous Socratic teaching method. He would question their answers and challenge their beliefs to draw out ideas. In his small classes, there was nowhere to hide.
Former student Frank Kratovil Jr. once skipped class to play in a baseball game. The next week, Dr. Weber presented Kratovil with a slip to drop the class. The professor kept the slip on hand, warning Kratovil that it would be submitted after one more absence.
Judge Kratovil became the Queen Anne's County state's attorney, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and state District Court judge.
"He demanded and expected excellence," said Judge Kratovil, who graduated in 1990 with a degree in political science. "He sparked a lifelong interest in me. He was a phenomenal teacher."
Dr. Weber wouldn't scold a late student. Instead, he would stop class and loudly say, "Can I get you a coffee and a bun?"
"Of course, no one was ever late," said his wife, Sara Ann Weber.
Robert Joseph Weber was born 1937 in Chicago and raised on the North Shore. His father, Joseph George Weber, was a plumber and invented systems used in a Chicago zoo to wash away bird droppings and supply water to giraffes. His mother, Elizabeth Margaret Moffatt Weber, was a Scottish immigrant and nurse.
Dr. Weber served in the Army from 1956 to 1958. He was stationed at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County when he met a young woman from Maryland's Eastern Shore. Ann Fallowfield was staying near the base at an Episcopal boarding house. They were married for 59 years before his death.
In 1962, he earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Then he and his wife moved back to Maryland and settled in Carroll County.
Dr. Weber taught English and social studies at North Carroll High School before studying political science further at the University of Maryland. He earned a master's degree in 1966 and doctorate in 1969. Then he joined Western Maryland College, which was renamed McDaniel in 2002.
The couple raised three children on a small farm in Carroll County.
"He didn't wake us up for the moon landing, but he made us watch the Watergate hearings — he was that dad," said a daughter, Joan Weber of Westminster.
The family raised pigs, cattle and chickens. "He called it a gentleman's farm," his daughter said.
A wood stove heated their farmhouse. He rebuilt an old refrigerator into a solar-powered water heater. On weekends the family collected firewood and gleaned crops. When their sow, Rosebud, gave birth one winter, the family raised the piglets in the kitchen.
A perpetual tinkerer, Dr. Weber read the magazine Mother Earth News for lessons in renewable energy and family farming.
He bought a cottage in Rock Hall on Maryland's Eastern Shore and spent one summer as a commercial crabber. He also founded a T-shirt printing shop and he opened Maggie's Restaurant and Catering in Westminster, his daughter said.
"He just needed to keep busy all the time," she said.
In 1983 he became chair of the political science and international studies department. Dr. Weber maintained high standards for his students. If they scored poorly on a quiz — below 70 percent, Judge Kratovil recalled — they received a zero. Judge Kratovil objected one day in Dr. Weber's office.
"I protested, 'How can you take away 59 percent?'" Judge Kratovil recalled. "His answer was he's been doing it for years." Judge Kratovil laughed. "At the time, I didn't find that very humorous."
Dr. Weber promoted internships and placed students in offices with state's attorneys and U.S. senators. For 29 years, he took students to the Harvard Model United Nations conference to simulate work of the U.N.
His research took him to Great Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. He led students behind the former Iron Curtain and to study emerging nations in Central America.
In 1998, he created the Robert J. Weber Award to honor star political science students. He retired that year.
Dr. Weber remained a devoted fan of the Chicago Cubs. As a boy, he would hitchhike to Wrigley Field and sneak into games.
As he told it, he once jumped from the bleachers and plucked a foul ball off the field, his wife said. Then Hall of Famer Stan Musial threw a glove at him.