First Here, Then There: Alum recalls professional experience overseas

David and Theresa Brubaker

In the fall of 1967, David Brubaker made his way to Auburn from Pensacola, Fla., during the social and cultural phenomenon known simply as the “Sixties.” Like most Auburn students, he had no idea where the journey would take him. In the spring of ’70, while working on an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, he met an Auburn High School student through a friend. The relationship blossomed quickly, and upon graduation in August 1971, David did the logical thing — he enrolled in graduate school. In March 1972, Theresa Gentle became his wife. Today, he will tell you that the two degrees he earned in chemical engineering from Auburn led him to a career — and world travels — that he never imagined.

In 1973, David graduated with his master’s degree and went to work for the U.S. Air Force as an engineer. Less than three years later, he began a career with Eastman Kodak Company that would last more than 30 years.

He started in Kingsport, Tenn., but three years later relocated to Batesville, Ark., where he would manage the environmental and plant services operations, and ultimately, oversee a major chemical plant expansion at that site.

“They asked if I would be willing to go to Arkansas for two to three years . . . we were there for more than 10,” says David.

In 1994, when Eastman Kodak spun off Eastman Chemical Company, David went with the spin off. His experience made him an ideal candidate to oversee the building of a number of chemical plants for Eastman Chemical Company in Asia.

Following a second stint in Kingsport, and with their daughter and son grown and off to college, David and Theresa agreed to a relocation to Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, for David to manage the building of Eastman’s first chemical plant in Asia. Behind schedule and looking to be over budget, the project needed some leadership. David’s meticulous attention to detail and his unwavering commitment to deadlines kept the project on schedule — in fact, ahead of schedule.

“All of the local employees and I would often work seven days a week to ensure the schedule was on target,” says David. “People would tell me there was no way we could get it done on time. I would say, ‘We are going to find a way.’”

The Brubakers spent two years in Kuala Lumpur before moving to Kuantan, Malaysia for three years, and then on to Singapore for another six years. During this time, he oversaw the construction, startup and operation of five new plants, including two in Malaysia, one in Singapore and two in China. With David working, Theresa immersed herself in the culture of each city they encountered.

“In Malaysia, at first I thought I would just stay home and cross-stitch,” she says. “But that only lasted a week. I wanted to get out and experience the people and the culture.”

Before long, Theresa was so on-the-go that David had to buy her a car to get around.

“It was challenging in each place to adjust to a completely different culture,” she says. “But David’s work provided us with opportunities to travel and experience local cultures we never dreamed of.”

“That graduate degree from Auburn made a big difference in my career,” says David. “The minor degree in environmental engineering was important for my work in Arkansas and overseas. It was a critical part of my ability to determine and manage important environmental issues for each plant, and a major reason I had those opportunities.”

Following 11 years overseas, David returned to Kingsport and retired three years later as vice president of global manufacturing. He and Theresa relocated to Canton, Ga., last year to be closer to their families and enjoy their grandchildren.

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