Chat Room - Robert A. Tiebout

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By Lance Coleman

General Robert A. Tiebout, U.S. Marines (Retired), is 68, was born in Urbana, Ill. The General and Lil, his wife of almost 40 years, moved to Townsend about 12 years ago. They have two sons and four grandchildren. Tiebout joined the Marines rather than be drafted after he earned an engineering degree and says it turned out to be a better career move than he originally anticipated. "I went into the Marine Corps with anticipation I would fulfill my military obligation, which was three and a half years," he says. "I became so attached to it. and I liked that style of life that I ended up staying for 35 years and giving up my other civilian career."

In the military, he applied his engineering education as a combat engineer and a facilities engineer. He spent time all over the world, served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 and was stationed at locations throughout the United States after the war.

When he and his wife prepared to retired, they planned to "run a matrix" to determine which places would be the best locations to retire. "We threw it away and said we liked East Tennessee best. We came here for camping and really enjoyed it," he says. "My son was a student at UT. We decided the place to come would be East Tennessee, and we love it."

What was your most embarrassing moment?
"The Marine Corps birthday every year is in Washington D.C., and, on that day you go to Washington Cathedral. There are lots of dignitaries there -- Secretary of Defense and the president . I walked inside the door in full dress uniform, sat down three rows behind the President. A Major tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Do you know you have no rank ensignia?’ I was sitting there without rank ensignia, which was very, very embarrassing. We very quietly exited and removed ourselves from the event."

Why did you pursue the career you chose?
"I think there’s several reasons I stayed in the military. I loved the responsibility of being a Marine. I also loved the way that you react with people you deal with. There’s a lot of outside activity, and you’re with youth all the time. It’s physical, and it’s a challenge trying to motivate people. It’s much better than sitting at a desk all day doing detail work at a drafting table."

What is one word others often use to describe you and why?
"Workaholic, physically demanding. When I was with the troops one of the things I always did was run the troops in the mornings, at all ranks. That was one of my things and when I visited places, I would have a session of running the troops."

When you were 5 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"That was during World War II. Those war years were an impressionable time on us youngsters. As we went to school, the teachers every morning would ask if our uncles or fathers had been wounded or killed. We would always buy war bonds for the war. Under all those influences, you could see the impact of what was going on with World War II. I was probably saying, ‘I wish I could contribute to this effort as a youngster.’"

What’s the best thing about Blount County?
The people, the wonderful people. I’ve lived in a lot of places all over the world and met a lot of people, all extremes and in between, and I’ve never been to a place better than Blount County. People are friendly, helpful, courteous, kind -- they’re just genuine people. I have so many friends here that fit that mold."

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
"Probably, not to be such a workaholic and do more things that are relaxing."

What is your passion?
"I’m a woodworker, and I love to build furniture. I have a passion to restore automobiles, and I’m doing both now. I enjoy physical types of exercise. I used to run in Townsend. Now I come to (Blount Memorial) Wellness Center."

To what do you attribute your success?
"My success comes from the roots of my parents and their guidance to me -- from teaching me what it was to work hard and to understand that you’re going to make mistakes, but when you do, learn from them and move forward. I attribute a lot to my father. He made sure I got an education. As years go on, you understand why you continue. My grandfather and grandmother were both college graduates. It was in the family that you follow an education."

What do you hate?
"I hate negativism, and I hate talking to people that have no appreciation for this great country we live in and are always downing everything. Most have never lived anywhere else, so they don’t understand how wonderful this country is. The things they take for granted, most have never had. The worst conditions here are better than some of the conditions people live in other parts of the world."

What’s your favorite quote?
"It was by Chesty Puller, one of the most decorated Marines. The quote came when he was in Korea: ‘We’re not retreating. We’re just fighting the battle in a different direction.’"

What do you do to relax or have fun?
"I love to travel. Just this year we took all the grandchildren West. I took my son and his 7-year-old son and walked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I also enjoy reading, and I enjoy sports."

What is your dream vacation?
"I have to be doing something -- hiking some place, going to some historical site, learning what’s there. I love going to the Grand Canyon. I’ve hiked it seven times."

What is your favorite toy?
"I guess my favorite toys are my tools. I have all kinds of wood-working tools and mechanic’s tools, and I enjoy all those."

What is the best book you’ve ever read?
"I recently I read a book that was very enlightening to me. George Sada’s "Saddam’s Secrets." Sada was one of Saddam’s ranking officers in charge of air operations in Iraq, was a fifth generation Christian, yet he survived all that period of time. His book was an eye opener on the conditions in Iraq, the brutality of Saddam and what he did to the people."

Would you travel in space?
"I have no desire to travel in space. I’ve traveled a lot by air, helicopters, small jets and all kinds of aircraft, and I don’t even like to fly. I’d just as soon go by ground."

What is your favorite sport and favorite sport’s team?
"I love football, but I have come to really like the women’s basketball at UT."

If you were King for a Day, what edict would you immediately pass?
"Every one of us would have to make some contribution to the betterment of this country."

What is the best present you ever received?
"My wife was the best gift I ever received."

What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?
"This is both my mother’s and father’s advice. They said the best things, the things you will enjoy more than anything else, are those things that are free. The sunsets, the fall time, the beauty of the mountains -- all those things that don’t cost you a penny."

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