George Robinson Erdman
March 14, 1936 – March 20, 2021
George Robinson Erdman died peacefully at home on March 20, 2021, just days after celebrating his 85th birthday. He had courageously battled pulmonary fibrosis for several years.
Born in Harrisonburg on March 14, 1936, George was the son of the late Col. Levi Centrel Erdman and Ann Robinson Erdman. He moved many times as a child but spent most of his life in Rockingham County and raised his family there.
George graduated from Dayton High School in 1953. He briefly attended Virginia Tech before following in his father’s footsteps and enlisting in the Air Force. He was stationed in Hawaii and Taiwan. After leaving the service, he became an engineer at WSVA, where he met a sassy little lifeguard who became the love of his life, the former Marilyn “Sue” Wichael, who survives. They married on August 22, 1962.
His 58-year marriage to Sue was George’s greatest source of strength. They enjoyed a beautifully complementary partnership. He was the family’s mad scientist dreamer and she its pragmatic chief executive. After Sue’s too early onset of dementia, he continued as her devoted caregiver, carrying their united torch forward. He regularly attended Sue’s Harrisonburg High School Class of ’61 gatherings as her representative, eventually becoming an honorary member.
Beyond his beloved wife, George is survived by his four children: George R. Erdman II and his wife, Dawn, of Roanoke; Jori Ann Erdman and her husband, Charles “Chip” Boyles, of Charlottesville; Anthony D. Erdman of Harrisonburg; and Jennifer Erdman Shirkey and her husband, Aaron, of Harrisonburg. His nine grandchildren all survive as well and were the source of much pride and delight over the last three decades. George also leaves behind his sister Lois Beaufait and her husband, Fred; brother Richard Erdman; brother-in-law Desmon Wichael; and several nieces.
In addition to George’s parents, his mother-in-law, Marjorie Wichael Leake, and her husband, Brent, and sisters Ann Eliza Erdman and Evlyn Bassols preceded him in death.
George adored sharing stories. A seminal event in his life was the attack on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, which he directly witnessed and survived as a 5-year-old child. On December 7, 1941, George’s family had been stationed at Hickam Field for almost a year while his father was serving in the Army Air Corps. George’s mother hid him and his three sisters in their living quarter’s trunk closet during the attack until she could safely drive them to refuge at an acquaintance’s home in the hills overlooking Honolulu. As an adult, George crafted a memoir of the young family’s experience entitled “Letters From Hickam Field,” based on his mother’s correspondence home during the war. Volunteer base historian Jessie Higa became ohana to George in his later years as they traded information about wartime life at Hickam, and in 2018 he finally met her in person on a special family trip back to Hawaii revisiting key sites from his youth and own service there. Virginia may have been George’s mainland home, but a piece of his heart forever resided in Hawaii.
George earned his bachelor’s degree in physics—or “natural philosophy,” as he called it—from Madison College. He held various positions before joining Merck & Co. in Elkton in 1978, where he worked until his retirement in 1993. During his time at Merck, his relentless curiosity and problem-solving drive resulted in two patents. In typical George fashion, he launched an entrepreneurial career in retirement, founding and operating EREN Corporation, an engineering services firm, for more than ten years. He was very proud of being a small business owner.
Gifted with an active mind and sociable nature, George pursued many interests and made and maintained many friendships. A jack of all trades, he built two houses with his own hands for his growing family. He was a long-time Boy Scout leader who mentored numerous Eagle Scouts, including his two sons and a grandson. He delighted in volunteering for science exhibitions at local schools. He was an avid golfer, reader, writer, and family historian. Dubbing himself “Brodad” (a mashup of “brother” and “dad”), he regularly emailed status reports and random bits of wisdom to a fond network of loved ones.
In 1962, George was instrumental in working out the wiring and controls for an electric Civil War map with synchronized narration. Initially designed to last five years for a local centennial event, it has been in nearly continuous operation for almost sixty. In 2002, he led a volunteer team of technicians in refurbishing and computerizing the map, and it is now part of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society’s collection in Dayton.
George’s full social life in retirement often made it hard for his children to track him down. He treasured his weekly routine of Monday golf at Packsaddle, Thursday small group Bible study, Saturday breakfast at Thomas House Restaurant, and Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church followed by lunch with his airport crew. He also bonded with fellow members of the caregiver support group he attended in Woodstock.
Despite his busy existence, the singular passion and organizing principle of George’s life was family, and he ladled love on them as liberally as his signature homemade milk gravy on toast. He strove to be a friend to his children and became their hero as he dedicated his final years to caring for their mother and grandmother notwithstanding his own illness.
A celebration of George’s life will be held at The Granary at Valley Pike Farm Market in Weyers Cave on Sunday April 18, 2021, at 1 pm. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the Virginia Headwaters Council of the Boy Scouts of America, 801 Hopeman Parkway, Waynesboro, VA 22980 (www.vahcbsa.org) or the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society, 382 High Street, Dayton, VA 22821 (www.heritagecenter.com).
Online condolences may be shared at www.lindseyharrisonburg.com
- Marilyn "Sue" Wichael Erdman, Wife
- George R. Erdman, II (Dawn), Son
- Jori Ann Erdman (Charles "Chip" Boyles), Daughter
- Anthony D. Erdman, Son
- Jennifer Erdman Shirkey (Aaron), Daughter
- Nine, Grandchildren
- Lois Beaufait (Fred), Sister
- Richard Erdman, Brother
- Desmon Wichael, Brother-in-law
- Several, Nieces
- Ann Robinson Erdman, Mother (deceased)
- Col. Levi Centrel Erdman, Father (deceased)
- Marjorie Wichael Leake (Brent), Mother-in-law (deceased)
- Ann Eliza Erdman, Sister (deceased)
- Evlyn Bassols, Sister (deceased)
Virginia Headwaters Council of the Boy Scouts of America
801 Hopeman Parkway, Waynesboro, Virginia 22980
Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society
382 High Street, Dayton, Virginia 22821
A Celebration of George's Life
The Granary at Valley Pike Farm Market
George Robinson Erdman
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March 30, 2021
My most sincere condolences to the Erdman family. I worked with George for many years at Merck. He was a brilliant and humble man from whom I learned very much, not the least of which was how have fun while working hard!
March 30, 2021
I had the pleasure of working with George and his crew when he very generously volunteered his time and talent to upgrade the Stonewall Jackson Electric Map at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society. I not only learned a great deal about the original creation of the map in which he was instrumental, but I learned to know a wonderful person. My condolences to his family and friends.
March 29, 2021
I was so sorry to hear of George’s passing. He was such a kind and dear man. I first met George when I started working at MSD (Merck) in 1986. We both were in Technical Operations. One memory of him is when our work group and spouses decided to take some ball room dancing classes. George and Susie were much better than I was. My thoughts and prayers are with your entire family.
March 29, 2021
Hello to family of George Erdman,
I am so sorry to hear about George's passing. I worked closely with George at Merck and he was a great help to me. He spent a good deal of time teaching me about a main production computer system and dealing with the FDA. I had the opportunity to have a recent breakfast with George and it was good to see him.
He was one of the most intellegent and nicest people I have known!
Please accept my on-line condolences to all of you as I will not be able to make it to George's Celebration of Life.
Best Regards, Todd M. Smith
March 28, 2021
Prayers to the Erdman family. I worked at Merck with George. What a delightful individual! Rest In Peace !
March 28, 2021
Condolences to George’s family. I was blessed to have worked with George for many years. He was a kind and wonderful human. He was always smiling and had kind words for all. ❤️❤️ Lynn
March 27, 2021
We are sorry to hear about Mr. Erdman's passing. I first met him when he was Jennie's Explorer Post leader. As a teacher, I worked with him on science through Merck. We really enjoyed when he visited the Bar-B-Q Ranch. I have many fond memories of him. Our prayers are with his family.
March 25, 2021
George and family were many years wonderful neighbors and my husband, Jim Hoak and George were long time workers with the Boy Scout program. I send my love to all family members with many good memories. Dolores Hoak