Robert Dumas Obituary, U.S. Army veteran and Auburn Serenity House Member
When asked about his proudest achievement in his work life, Robert Dumas said it was redesigning a new stick shift mechanism for Chrysler in the 1980s.
The automaker was on the rebound under the leadership of Lee Iacocca, and it was trying to compete with popular sporty imports such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI equipped with stick shifts. Unfortunately, U.S. Automakers didn’t have much experience with manual shifters, but they were popular on European brands and highly refined.
The new Chrysler stick shifter felt clunky and cheap compared with the crisp-shifting competition.
Mr. Dumas – working for a supplier at the time – made a slight redesign of the linkage, including a new design for a plastic bushing that gave the shifter movement a tight, crisp feel like the Europeans.
It was a small change, but it made a huge improvement in the quality of the shifter and the sporty personality of Chrysler’s stick shift cars without adding cost. That briefly gave Mr. Dumas local hero status in the manual transmission department at Chrysler, but more importantly, it made numerous Chrysler models more competitive with foreign imports.
Doing great things with small parts define Mr. Dumas’ professional life. Family, sailing and hockey defined his personal life.
While he was known for his great stories about sailing and travel, he also was a devoted husband and family man who loved his stepchildren, Mark A. Goulet and Marie Suzanne Goulet-Winter, his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
He married Canadian Laurette Chamberlain Goulet in 1967 and they were married for 49 years until she died in 2016. They enjoyed many adventures together, from buying a remote Canadian hunting and fishing lodge ninety miles north of Sault Ste. Marie, MI, to traveling the world from Europe to China.
Well into his sixties, Mr. Dumas strapped on skates and became a highly respected Grosse Pointe youth hockey coach. He coached grandson Drew Robert Winter’s hockey teams from nine years old until high school.
As for his business career, Mr. Dumas was a late bloomer.
At an age when most people are retired, Mr. Dumas launched a highly successful career as an international businessman, creating new business models for Michigan companies making small, specialized parts such as linkages. For the past 15 years he was president of Michigan-based Springfix linkages, which makes parts for everything from convertible car tops to giant, million-dollar John Deere corn harvesters and Caterpillar tractors.
When machine shops and tool and die makers began disappearing in the U.S. in the 1990s, Dumas spent much of his time finding new supply chains for small businesses and began using the Internet to buy and sell parts.
As the business grew, he traveled throughout Europe and China to develop relationships with suppliers and made Springfix a sophisticated global company that does business with some of the world’s largest companies.
He stepped back from running the day-to-day business several years ago as he struggled with health problems, but the company continues to thrive. And he contributed ideas and AutoCAD designs for new parts until two months before he died.
Born in Detroit in 1936, Mr. Dumas always was drawn to sailing on Michigan’s Great Lakes. As a young man he learned to race sailboats at Bayview Yacht Club where he ended up being a member for almost 60 years. He sailed Bayview’s famous Port Huron to Mackinac race at least a dozen times – which takes 40 to 60 hours to finish – and the even longer Chicago to Mackinac race numerous times.
After graduating from Detroit’s prestigious Cass Technical high school he joined the Coast Guard and spent two years sailing the Great Lakes. After that stint, Dumas couldn’t resist an exciting offer to strike it rich mining gold in the Yukon.
He didn’t realize it would mean working every day underwater in the freezing Yukon river wearing breathing gear and a wet suit as part of a suction dredging operation. Even so, he loved the adventure in the great outdoors and only complained about having to eat salmon every single day for a year. He vowed to never eat salmon again. And that became a standing joke at dinner: “Hey Bob, you should try the salmon…”
Robert Dumas, passed away peacefully April 15, surrounded by his family at his home in Grosse Pointe Park, MI. He was 87.
He is pre-deceased by stepson Mark Goulet of New Windsor, NY and survived by his stepdaughter Marie Suzanne Goulet Winter of Grosse Pointe Woods, MI; his daughter-in-law Maxine Falconer Goulet of New Windsor, NY; grandsons: Drew Robert Winter of Lansing, MI; Marc Goulet and his wife, Danielle of Wayne, NJ; Timothy Goulet and his wife, Maryalice of Bronx, NY; and his beloved great grandchildren: Austin, Jack, Alice and Sean.