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Topping, Robert W. | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Topping, Robert W.

Historical Note:

Robert W. Topping was born November 27, 1925. He was the son of Professor and Mrs. Alanson N. Topping. Topping’s father was a professor of electrical engineering at Purdue from 1903 to 1949, so Robert grew up in the community. Robert Topping was a member of the Purdue Class of 1950, and he was editor in chief of the RIVET, a campus humor publication. He graduated in 1950 with a degree in English. His brothers and sisters also graduated from Purdue.

After Robert Topping’s graduation, he spent several years working as a reporter for the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, the LaPorte Herald-Argus and the Grand Rapids Press in Michigan. He was cited in 1956 by the American Political Science Association for distinguished reporting of state and local government in 1956. Topping served in the Air Force in 1950 and 1951 as an information specialist at Castle Air Force base, Merced, California. He returned to Purdue permanently in 1961.

Topping started working in the old Bureau of Information, before it was renamed the Purdue News Service. He was director of the News Service in 1976 when he left that post to begin work on his book about former Purdue President Frederick Hovde. While researching and writing the book, he became an assistant to the vice president for advancement and continued to serve as press officer for the board of trustees and editor of Perspective. He later became senior editor in the Office of Publications and retired in 1990, after twenty-eight years on the Purdue staff. At Topping’s retirement dinner, Governor Evan Bayh made him a “Sagamore of the Wabash”, the highest honor an Indiana governor can bestow. Another award, the Leather Medal, from the Purdue chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists went to Topping in 1990. Awarded annually since 1921, the honor goes to someone “who has made a great contribution to the welfare, success and reputation of Purdue.”

Robert Topping was the founding editor in 1973 of Perspective, the university’s quarterly tabloid. He was also editor of Purdue Today. He has authored three books about Purdue University: The Hovde Years (1980), which covers Purdue history during Frederick Hovde’s presidency from 1946 through 1971. His book, A Century and Beyond (1988), was the first comprehensive history of Purdue since 1925. John Hicks III, the former senior vice president of Purdue, suggested that Topping write an updated version of Purdue’s history in 1983, and A Century and Beyond is a result of that suggestion. The book of trustees: Purdue University, 1865-1989, (1989) is book about Purdue University’s board of trustees members. Topping also wrote two unpublished manuscripts, “Gentle Force, The Women of Purdue University”, (1993) and “Just Call Me Orville”, the unpublished biography of Orville Redenbacher, (1996).

Topping had been the vice president of the Class of 1950, and he played a key role in getting the Class of 1950 lecture hall built on campus. It’s been noted in several publications that he always considered Purdue home. Robert Topping died April 25, 2009, and he will be remembered as one of Purdue University’s best-known historians and beloved storytellers.

Sources: Various articles published by the Lafayette Journal and Courier, filed in the Archives and Special Collections vertical file.

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