Cover photo for John Y. "Jack" Robertson's Obituary

John Y. "Jack" Robertson

John Y. "Jack" Robertson

John Y. "Jack"  Robertson

The world is surely a less happy and less interesting place with the passing of Jack Y. Robertson. Jack passed peacefully at home in Boise, ID, early the morning of June 20, 2021, after a recurrent battle with prostate cancer that continued to spread.

How do you sum up a life so full, so complete, in only a few paragraphs? Jack would want it to be simple, but nothing short of a book would do justice to the man. His was the American Dream, rising from little means; overcoming major challenges; leveraging intelligence, hard work and discipline to achieve success in his educational, business, and financial pursuits.

Jack Young Robertson was born November 29, 1931 in the midst of the Depression to Jack and Thelma (Wickersham) Robertson in Oakland, CA. Jack graduated from Oakland High School in 1949, but by his telling, was a disinterested and poor student, lacking confidence in academics. Feeling that college would be a lost cause, Jack joined the U.S. Navy. It was in the Navy that Jack found his stride. The Navy provided discipline, education, and opportunity. He was constantly challenged and found that he was indeed a good student, could be diligent in hitting the books, could succeed in learning and advancing through the ranks. His time aboard the USS Jason outside Japan laid the foundation for many lifelong friendships and introduced him early on to economic and financial principles that he would build upon for the rest of his life. Jack completed four years in the Navy and was honorably discharged in 1953 with the rank of 1 st Class Petty Officer.

Having found his educational footing in the Navy, Jack then attended U.C. Berkeley where he excelled in math and engineering, graduating with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. While attending Berkeley, Jack married Charlene Ewing in 1956, and they later brought son John and daughter Katy into their family. Jack and Charlene were later divorced. Upon graduation, Jack was quickly recruited by RCA and relocated to New York. While at RCA, he received the distinguished David Sarnoff Fellowship Award recognizing outstanding technical contributions. Jack then advanced to work with IBM in Philadelphia. During his time with IBM, Jack was awarded several patents and was recognized one year with producing one of the top designs of the company. In the mid-60’s, Jack returned to the Bay Area to head up the engineering efforts of several start-up tech companies, ultimately being promoted to President of Zeltex, Inc. Jack led Zeltex until its acquisition in the early ‘70s.

Jack’s math aptitude, attention to detail and inherent curiosity, coupled with his career success, naturally led him to becoming a student of finances. As with most things that Jack would put his mind to, he quickly became adept in the financial and real estate markets. Following Zeltex, Jack parlayed this fiscal expertise, along with his native interest in software and logic, into developing a financial planning application which he sold to one of the major investment firms.

As Jack was assessing the next chapter in his life, he looked around for a place that would provide both opportunity and a high quality of life. Boise rose to the top in both respects, and in 1975 Jack re-settled to Idaho’s capital city. There he found a well-established but operationally-challenged business in Preco Electronics. At this point in 1975, the business was struggling financially when Preco’s owner, Ed Peterson, brought Jack in as the President and Chief Executive Officer. Jack quickly turned the business around, generating outstanding success in the next few years to the extent that Ed and Jack took the whole company to Disneyland in 1979. Jack’s success with Preco was consistent throughout his 21 years of leading the organization, enabling the business to grow and expand, including the acquisition of Santa Clara Plastics (SCP Global Technologies) in 1981 and the development of the Morton, IL manufacturing facility. Following his retirement from Preco in 1996, Jack continued to serve Preco on the board of directors and in an advisory capacity until 2006.

In Boise, Jack found the love of his life, Betty Macek Williams. Jack and Betty were married in 1979 in Boise. Thus began a storybook synergy that would see them travel the world (over 100 countries), enjoying cruises to exotic locales, collecting a legion of friends along the way. Betty introduced Jack to her Pennsylvania family, and the Pittsburgh area became a favorite destination, generating stories too numerous to tell, and even converting Jack into being a Steelers fan. Betty was Jack’s rock, his soulmate, and his life-partner, sharing his successes, building warm, welcoming retreats from the business demands in Boise and McCall, as well as in their annual jaunt to the Big Island. Betty was the perfect complement to Jack, fueling a wonderful marriage of 42 years. Over the last five years, as Jack battled often serious health issues, Betty was Jack’s care-giver and cheerleader, helping him through the most difficult periods.

Jack’s career success is easy to describe; Jack himself, so much more difficult, not because of any questions, but because his character, his personality, his make-up was so broad, so deep, so multi-faceted, so good. Jack at heart was a humble, self-effacing man. He would be embarrassed by the laudatory descriptions of him and his life. He overcame a lack of confidence in himself to achieve great things, but those who met him and did not know him were easily engaged, brought into his world, he was more interested in you and your story than boasting about his own exploits. Jack had a gift for making you feel like you were the most important person in his world right then and there, able to fully focus on you, who you were and what you had to say at that moment in time. It was not an act, it was real. One person who met him for the first time, but who knew of his accomplishments, described him aptly as “genuine.”

Jack was a leader, a mentor, a teacher. The success of the Preco organization was built upon the team that Jack developed and grew. He was confident when he stepped down and turned the reins over to Mark Peterson that the business would be in good hands and continue to thrive because he and Mark had spent almost 10 years together. Mark was every bit the student that Jack was and inculcated and propagated the lessons readily. Mark and these team members became not only the core of a successful organization, but grew as individuals with Jack’s influence and guidance. How many people do you know who maintain close relationships with their “boss” 25 years after having stepped away from the business? This is a mark of the esteem they had for Jack and what he had meant to them.

While certainly proud of what he had achieved in business and in his personal pursuits, it was no secret that one of the things Jack valued most was the success of one of his mentorees. This role of mentor and teacher extended to family and friends as well. Jack was famous for his “money” talks, and would enthusiastically share them with nieces and nephews, and children of cousins, friends and colleagues. He was always encouraging, offering advice and positive influence to those who were lucky enough to spend time with him.

“The life of the party” is how one friend described him just recently after attending a birthday party of a mutual friend, with Jack amazingly exhibiting this warmth as he was in steep decline from the cancer. Jack could light up a room, keep you in stitches with his jokes, keep you rapt with his magic and card tricks, or keep you engaged, regaling you with story after story, many which had a parable-like ending. Jack loved to have fun, loved to share that fun with you. His and Betty’s hospitality were legendary, and they welcomed many, many guests into their home. And, while he would not describe himself as a “gourmand”, he had a discerning palate for excellent wine, good food, and an occasional primo cigar.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, the line goes. Well, Jack did not waste his. A lifelong, voracious learner, Jack was still learning new things up until a few days before he passed. He was inquisitive, asking and digging until he could comprehend and absorb. He loved to explore new technology and its application in his life. Whatever intrigued him, he would pursue it with the same gusto and exuberance that ensured his success at whatever he attempted. Well…, we may have to exclude golf from that list. Jack never did quite get the hang of swinging the club. But, that didn’t stop him from trying or from having a good time on the course with friends and family.

Jack made a lasting, positive mark upon many, many people who were fortunate to know him. His wit, his intelligence, his laughter, his mentoring, his kindness and caring will be dearly missed. Our loss, however, is Heaven’s gain. The next rumble you hear may not be peals of thunder but rather peals of laughter from Capt. Jack holding court.

Jack was pre-deceased by his parents and sister, Edna. Jack is survived by his wife Betty, son John of Pleasanton, CA; daughter Katy of Woodland, CA, and son Chuck Williams of San Antonio, TX.

A quiet aspect of Jack’s life, because Jack would not talk about it, was his and Betty’s generosity. Numerous charities, family members, employees, friends, and children of relatives and friends were the recipients of support in time of need, to help further their education or to help get established. To that end, in lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Boise Rescue Mission Ministry (“Helping people help themselves”), P.O. Box 1494, Boise, ID 83701; or the Boise YMCA, 1050 W State St, Boise, ID 83702

Special thanks to St. Luke’s Hospice, in particular to Deanna Root and her associates, for such outstanding professional care; to Tammy and Gilbert Walmer of C.A.R.E for their terrific attention and ready assistance; and to dear friends Eric and Kim Hansen who have provided such key support throughout Jack’s illness.

Per Jack’s wishes, there will be no service. A memorial will be held at Idaho State Veteran’s Cemetery at a future date.

Arrangements are through Alden-Waggoner Funeral Chapel and Crematory

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