See more of the story

Anyone who ran into Robert "Bob" Oliveira in the elevator of his Minneapolis apartment building would be greeted by a warm hello and smiling introduction.

"Every time the elevator door would open he'd say, 'Hi, my name is Bob. What's yours?'" said Dee Oliveira, his wife. She described her husband as an optimistic and extroverted person who embodied the idea of "work hard, play hard."

Bob Oliveira, whose hard work led to advancements in technology for people with hearing loss, died Sept. 5 due to complications from pulmonary fibrosis and rheumatoid arthritis. He was 79.

He was born in New Bedford, Mass., a city known for its whaling industry and population of Portuguese immigrants. His father, Sinval, was Portuguese, but Oliveira could never speak the language so well, his wife said.

Instead, he had a particular interest in science that followed him from his youth into the rest of his life. When Oliveira was young, a family member gifted him a chemistry set, his wife said, and he was always conducting his own experiments and asking questions.

His niece Elisabeth Young-Isebrand and her husband Scott Isebrand recalled Oliveira telling them stories of almost setting his house on fire in his childhood while conducting experiments.

That early curiosity led Bob to UMass, where he studied chemistry and met his future wife. Dee said they first noticed each other while in line for the water fountain, or "bubbler," as Bob called it.

They moved together to different parts of the country while Oliveira got his Ph.D. and continued his research. In 1972, he got a job at 3M, and the couple settled in Minnesota.

At 3M, Oliveira was a tireless innovator with an entrepreneurial spirit. He led the program at the company to commercialize the cochlear implant that had been developed by a company in Los Angeles. He worked with the developer to push the implant, which improves hearing, through clinical trials and get FDA approval for the device, his wife said.

Through this process, Oliveira realized hearing devices were often stiff and uncomfortable for patients to wear. His idea, according to his wife, was to use foam to create a better device to fit in the ear.

He developed the foam, and the Oliveiras together started Hearing Components, Inc. to produce the flexible material.

"He really believed in the products," Young-Isebrand said. "He believed in how they could help people with hearing, and he just loved the challenge, too."

She and her husband said Oliveira would routinely work 70- to 80-hour weeks. His dedication to his company and the people he worked with was immense, they said. He cut back on work in recent years, but owned Hearing Components, Inc. until his death.

Aside from his work, his family members said they will remember their summer biking tours with Oliveira in France. The family would set off to bike with no plan.

Bob Oliveira, right, and his wife, Dee, on a bicycling trip.
Bob Oliveira, right, and his wife, Dee, on a bicycling trip.

Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Young-Isebrand

"We kind of got up every morning and then figured out our route," Young-Isebrand said. "But we were always headed towards warm friends and a welcoming place."

In addition his wife, Oliveira is survived by his sister Shirley Jackowski, his sister-in-law Elaine Young and many nieces and nephews. Services have been held.