SMU remembers business leader Robert “Bob” Lee Zollars ’72

Robert “Bob” L. Zollars of Dallas, Texas, longtime SMU supporter and co-founder, chairman and CEO of Huitt-Zollars, Inc., died April 20, 2019.

DALLAS (SMU) – Robert “Bob” L. Zollars of Dallas, Texas, longtime SMU supporter and co-founder, chairman and CEO of Huitt-Zollars, Inc., died April 20, 2019.

Zollars exemplifies an American success story born of hard work and determination. While enrolled at SMU, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering through its cooperative program, allowing Zollars to alternate semesters of classwork with full-time work to gain experience and earn money.
The keen intellect and courage of conviction that would propel him to later success made Zollars stand out in the classroom, as illustrated in this anecdote shared by Marc P. Christensen, dean of SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering:

SMU remembers business leader Robert “Bob” Lee Zollars ’72“Bob was a student in Dr. Cecil Smith’s class. He thought a problem that the professor had written on the board was wrong, and told him so. Dr. Smith said the problem came directly from the textbook, to which Bob countered that he thought the textbook was incorrect. The professor felt his student was on to something, and told him to stay after class to talk about it. Dr. Smith then contacted the textbook author, and after some discussion, the author had to admit he made a mistake. All in all, the whole class was in awe of Bob.”

Zollars, a licensed professional engineer and a registered professional land surveyor, was the board chair of Huitt-Zollars, Inc., a Texas-based engineering and architectural firm co-founded in 1975 with his business partner, E. Larry Huitt. Beginning with just two employees in Dallas, Huitt-Zollars has grown into an award-winning nationally ranked firm with over 550 employees in 20 locations across the United States. Zollars led the day-to-day management of the firm, and especially enjoyed mentoring young professionals, encouraging talent development and embracing new challenges in engineering.

As a principal manager of engineering design and/or construction management, Zollars led an outstanding portfolio of projects that helped shape the landscape of Dallas and cities across Texas and the U.S., and the engineering industry as a whole. Some of these include the Fort Bliss Expansion Program; Dallas Area Rapid Transit; DFW International Airport - East Airfield and Apron Expansion Projects for Terminal 2E and 3E; McKinney Avenue Trolley; and Stonebridge Ranch Planned Community in McKinney, Texas.

He was an active leader in numerous professional and technical organizations, including the American Council of Engineering Companies; the American Society of Civil Engineers; the Design Professionals Coalition; the Society of American Military Engineers; the Texas Society of Professional Engineers; the Texas Engineering Foundation and the City of Dallas Urban Design Advisory Committee.

Zollars received frequent honors and recognition for involvement, leadership and professional accomplishments including American Society of Civil Engineers Dallas Branch Engineer of Year; Arkansas Post Distinguished Speaker; Texas Engineering Foundation Distinguished Engineer and Texas Engineering Foundation Fellow Recognition.

Throughout his career he maintained a fervent commitment to supporting education, including an endowed scholarship at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering for civil engineering students, scholarship endowments at other U.S. universities, and support for STEM education programs at local schools. His legacy will impact students for generations to come.

“We are saddened by Bob’s passing,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “His dedicated commitment to his alma mater ranged from scholarships for students making an impact on our world to support for critical academic facilities. He also strengthened all parts of our University through his volunteer leadership.”

His enduring support of SMU, where he served on the Lyle School Executive Board, is represented throughout the Lyle School quad, including the Huitt-Zollars Learning Complex and other classroom and conference spaces. Zollars also served on the Lyle School Campaign Steering Committee during SMU Unbridled: The Second Century Campaign. SMU Lyle honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award in 2007. Zollars and his wife, Catherine, also supported scholarships and capital needs in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

“Bob held dear the place where the skills and training for his professional success took root,” said Brad E. Cheves, SMU vice president for Development and External Affairs. “We are grateful for his example of commitment to perseverance and integrity, and for his and Cathy’s generous investments in students and their future success.”

Among Zollars’ civic involvement was the Greater Dallas American Diabetes Association (ADA), for which he served as a board member and was a co-chair of its “Stars of Texas” fundraising event. In 2001, the ADA honored Zollars and his wife with its Sylvia and Gary Luskey Volunteer of the Year Award. He also served on the Parkland Hospital Technical Advisory Committee.

Throughout his life Zollars excelled in sports and indulged this passion in his later years by supporting and attending SMU basketball and Dallas Mavericks games. As an accomplished owner of thoroughbred race horses, he enjoyed watching several qualify and run in the Kentucky Derby and other major races across the country.

Zollars is survived by his beloved wife of 51 years, Catherine Zollars; sister, Brenda Hancock; and nephew, Jeremy Hoedebeck, as well as countless friends and colleagues who were blessed to know him.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.