Bob Stong was one of five alpha scholars of the Big Omega* who electrified the halls of Cabell Hall during my five graduate school years at Virginia, 1965-1970. Ed Floyd was my advisor. Peter Landweber introduced me to manifolds in his differential geometry class. The work of Pierre Conner and Larry Smith was to inspire much of my own research, and my first paper was joint with Larry. Bob Stong kept my Virginia stay finite.
To me, Floyd suggested something about generalizing LNM 28, The Relation of Cobordism to K-Theories, using the Eilenberg-Moore spectral sequence. Think Steve Wilson’s thesis without the Yankee influence of Brown and Peterson. Help and clarification were sorely needed, but Floyd had become a busy department chair and he still shared an office with the quite intimidating Pierre Conner. Ancient and ignorant, I was too timid to brave the Conner-Floyd den. But just down the hall, there was mathematical salvation: Bob Stong presiding in the coffee room. Before daybreak, Stong proved his daily quota of theorems. He taught early and was then available for frank opinions (on things mathematical and not), for tutorials ("That’s easy, just ..."), and for professorial fellowship ("Just what is the color of the seven sphere?")
Under Bob Stong’s instruction, I learned the joy of computing Chern numbers of Milnor manifolds. Instead of generalizing the Conner-Floyd splitting, fibrations were constructed involving MU and bu. Bob wasn’t my official advisor, but my dissertation was published as "A Stong-Hattori Spectral Sequence." My debt to him is recorded there in the title.
In the first years after leaving Virginia for my Kentucky job, my topological curiosity and growth was kept alive by notes from Bob (and others). In those little envelopes with the meticulous printing would be advice, counterexamples, comments on the known and unknown, and suggestions on abbreviating arguments. And encouragement tempered with candor.
I thank Nick Kuhn and his Virginia colleagues for organizing the opportunity to see Bob a last time.