Walter Alan Backofen
Walter Alan Backofen ’46, retired professor of metallurgy and materials science, died at his Marblehead, Mass. home on Dec. 2, 2006. He was 80.
Backofen taught at MIT for 25 years, retiring in 1975. He designed new courses and a new laboratory and became recognized for bridging theory and practice over a wide range of real-life problems — from automotive stampings to orthopedic implants and the Star Wars defense shield.
Douglas Ross SM ’54 passed away on Jan. 31, 2007 after a fall at his home in the Brookhaven at Lexington care community. He was 77.
A lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Ross was well-known for having invented the Automatically Programmed Tool computer language while simultaneously learning and teaching at MIT, according to the Boston Globe. He was also the founder of software engineering company SofTech and coined the term “computer-aided design.”
Frances E. Low
Francis E. Low, a retired MIT physicist and provost who worked on the Manhattan Project, died of heart failure on Feb. 16, 2007 at a retirement home in Haverford, Pa. He was 85.
“Francis was a hero of the physics department,” said Professor Marc A. Kastner. “His theoretical ideas shaped much of modern particle physics as well as condensed matter physics, and he was a wise, generous colleague who helped many of us when we were starting our careers at MIT.”
Ronald H. Stowell
Ronald H. Stowell, a postdoctoral research associate in the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, passed away on March 4, 2007. His death was ruled a suicide by hanging. He was 36.
Stowell, who came to MIT with a PhD in 2005 from Princeton University’s Program in Plasma Physics, also served as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate math course Differential Equations (18.03) in Spring 2007. He taught three sections, close to one-tenth of the 18.03 students, according to course instructor Professor Arthur P. Mattuck. In an e-mail to 18.03 students, Mattuck described Stowell as “highly knowledgeable about the subject and deeply concerned with how best to teach it.”
Daniel J. Barclay
Daniel J. Barclay ’07 was found dead on April 20, 2007 on Scussett Beach in Cape Cod. His death was later ruled a suicide, according to the Wall Street Journal. He was 22.
Barclay was strongly involved with MIT’s Debate Team, spending his weekends debating at colleges through the nation. “He was a very good debater,” said Adam J. Goldstein ’09, president of the debate team, to the Cape Cod Times. “He had a good sense of humor. He was always joking around.”
At MIT, Barclay received a bachelor’s degree in economics and was finishing his master’s thesis in political science.
Richard J. Samuels, Barclay’s freshman advisor, said that he was “extremely fond” of Barclay and that he was “a pleasure to know, and a pleasure to work with.”
Ivan D. Dimitrov
Ivan D. Dimitrov ’10, a passionate, goal-oriented international student from Sofia, Bulgaria, died on April 21, 2007 due to fatal injuries from a motorcycle accident. He was 20.
Iliya T. Tsekov ’08, one of Dimitrov’s Senior House suite mates, described his friend as “cheerful and happy,” always joking around and in high spirits. According to Ivan Z. Dimitrov ’09 (no relation to the decedent), a Bulgarian suite mate and high school friend, Dimitrov was very proud of his Bulgarian nationality.
The two long-time friends both avidly followed Bulgaria’s professional soccer team CSKA Sofia as members of the CSKA fan club. Tsekov said that it was Dimitrov’s idea to cover their suite with all sorts of Bulgarian-related decorations, such as flags, barricades, and plastic swords.
Charles D. Paton
Charles D. Paton, retired director of the Electrical Engineering Laboratories, died April 29, 2007. He was 78.
Paton arrived at MIT in 1968 and taught graduate and undergraduate classes until his retirement in 1993. He also founded Paton Engineering Research, where he conducted innovative research that advanced battery technology.
Ryan M. Davis
Ryan M. Davis ’10, an energetic and vibrant student with a passion for chemistry, died on May 26, 2007 in the Mount Holyoke Range after being missing for nearly two months. He was 20.
Davis, a third-floor resident of the east parallel of East Campus, was from Hingham, Mass., and attended high school at Phillips Academy in Andover. Davis was an athlete with a love for the outdoors. He was a member of two swim teams and played soccer in local leagues. Davis was also a skilled sailor and served as a sailing instructor.
E. Cary Brown
E. Cary Brown, a leading expert on fiscal policy and the economics of taxation and a member of the MIT economics faculty for more than 60 years, passed away on June 8, 2007. He was 91.
As a professor of economics at MIT, Brown taught a wide range of graduate and undergraduate courses on tax policy design, statistical methods for economics, and the economics of fiscal policy.
Joseph F. O’Connor
Joseph F. O’Connor, Draper Laboratory’s retired vice president of human resources and administration (1981–1994) and secretary of the MIT Corporation (1994–2005), died June 11, 2007 of cancer at the age of 77.
For more than a dozen years, O’Connor was the face of Draper Laboratory in the Cambridge community. O’Connor presented Draper’s viewpoint on topics of public interest, such as the Nuclear-free Cambridge Referendum of 1983, and he provided leadership for many civic organizations.
Eugene Bell, a former MIT biology professor renowned for his pioneering work in the field of regenerative medicine, passed away on June 22, 2007. He was 88.
Bell recently donated more than $1 million to MIT to establish the Eugene Bell Career Development Professorship of Tissue Engineering. Darrell J. Irvine, the inaugural holder of the professorship, said Bell came to be known as the “father of tissue engineering” as a result of a seminal study he published in the journal Science in 1981.
Edgar R. Gonzalez
Edgar R. Gonzalez ’04 was found in Grout Pond in Stratton, Vt. on July 29, 2007. Gonzalez had been missing since July 7 when he became separated from his group while hiking during a camping trip. He was 29.
Gonzalez worked as an assistant tennis coach in MIT’s Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation.
James T. Albrecht
James T. Albrecht ’08, a Baker House resident known for his contributions to academic and student life and MIT, died on July 22, 2007 from injuries sustained in a fall. Albrecht, 21, appears to have fallen from the roof of a New York City five-story apartment building and landed on a second-story ledge of an adjacent building, according to the New York Police Department.
“James Albrecht’s most charming and memorable quality was his overwhelming generosity,” said Sarah C. Proehl ’09. “Even if it was 2 a.m., and he had myriad problem sets to do, he would gladly put down his work to help any student knocking on his door.”
Albert R. Ni ’09 described Albrecht as “a laid-back, easy going guy, always funny and enjoyable to be around.”
“He was someone who derived a lot of pleasure through helping others, something that I think speaks more truly to his character than any of his other virtues,” Ni said in an e-mail to Baker House. “There is no question that the time I shared with him as a roommate and a friend was enjoyable and invaluable. He was the first person to make me feel welcome at MIT.”
At MIT, Albrecht was the president of Baker House and was elected as vice president of the Dormitory Council in May 2007.
Hollis M. Lilly
Hollis M. Lilly, staff associate in the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming, died on July 28, 2007 due to complications from surgery. He was 36.
Lilly came to MIT in October 2003. In his capacity as staff to the faculty Committee on Academic Performance and as the coordinator of Advanced Placement transfer credit and UAAP sponsored study sessions, he worked with both faculty and students.
A resident of Somerville who grew up in Lowell, Lilly previously worked at Harvard University.
Hayward R. Alker
Hayward R. Alker ’59, an MIT alumnus and political scientist specializing in international relations, died Aug. 24, 2007 at his home in Block Island, R.I., following a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 69.
A New York City native, Alker was a leading scholar on international conflict resolution, widely respected for his integration of mathematical and humanistic research methods.
Walter S. Owen
Walter S. Owen, professor emeritus of physical metallurgy at MIT, died Oct. 10, 2007 at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 87.
Owen joined MIT as head of what was to become the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; during his tenure as department head from 1973 to 1982, the department broadened its academic and research focus from metallurgy to include ceramics, polymers, and semiconductors. Controversial at the time, this change created a department that today produces groundbreaking work.
John Jackson, a father figure to generations of young men in MIT’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house, died of cancer on Oct. 19, 2007 at Sherrill House in Jamaica Plain. He was 92.
Jackson, who was a cook for DKE for half a century, nourished bodies and enriched souls and minds, members of the MIT fraternity said to the Boston Globe. “Although Jack started as a cook, his role became much more rich and important as social barriers dropped over the years,” Ted Devlin ’87 of Somerville, who lived at the Memorial Drive house from 1983–1987, told the Globe.
Kenneth A. Wright
Kenneth A. Wright ’47, a physicist who spent more than 60 years at MIT researching the effects of radiation, died Jan. 7, 2008. He was 88.
Wright’s area of expertise was in determining the radiation doses required to sterilize, pasteurize, and modify materials, and in verifying the effects of these doses on irradiated materials.
Wright came to MIT from the U.S. Army, where he worked on radar during World War II. Between 1947 and 1985, he worked as a physicist staff member of the High Voltage Research Laboratory in the Department of Electrical Engineering. In 1985, he became a half-time staffer in HVRL and in 1995 moved to part-time. During his career, he authored or co-authored more than 70 research papers.
The MIT News Office contributed many of these obituaries.