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Retired Professor F. Leroy Foster dies at 99; Helped manage World War II research at MIT

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Retired Professor F. Leroy Foster, a mining engineer who played a key role in MIT's Division of Industrial Cooperation (DIC) during World War II when it oversaw hundreds of sensitive research projects, died on New Year's Eve at the Epoch Senior Health Care Center in Brewster, Mass.

Dr. Foster, "Doc" to his friends, celebrated his 99th birthday on Dec. 22 at the nursing home with his four grandsons and seven great-grandchildren. "He was still a pretty sharp guy," said his grandson, David L. Foster, a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. "His body just gave out." Dr. Foster was confined to the nursing home about a year ago after suffering a broken hip.

Dr. Foster became the assistant director of DIC in 1939 when it was a four-person operation and managed 25 contracts worth $200,000. By 1944-45, it was administering 150 projects with a value of $40 million. The DIC budget that year was 13 times the operating income of the entire Institute in 1939, according to Professor John Burchard, MIT's wartime historian.

Dr. Foster also served on the Research Laboratories Industry Advisory Committee of the War Production Board.

A native of Avon, Mass., and a graduate of Brockton High School, Dr. Foster matriculated at MIT in 1921 and joined the faculty as an assistant in the Department of Mining and Metallurgy four years later upon receiving the S.B. in mining engineering. He became an instructor in 1927 and earned the S.M. in 1930. He was an assistant professor from 1931 until 1940 when the department was discontinued. Dr. Foster received the Ph.D in 1939.

He was appointed associate director of DIC in 1952 and director in 1955, succeeding Nathaniel Sage, who became director of the newly formed Division of Sponsored Research (DSR). A year later, Dr. Foster became the director of DSR when Mr. Sage died. DIC was absorbed by DSR in 1956.

Dr. Foster retired from DSR in 1968 but continued as the director of the Lowell Institute School, which offered evening instruction at MIT. A longtime resident of South Braintree, Mass., Dr. Foster and his wife, the former Evelyn Taylor, moved to her hometown of Chatham, Mass., in the early 1970s. Mrs. Foster died in 2000.

He was a founder of the MIT Club of Cape Cod and was awarded the Bronze Beaver in 1959, the highest honor the MIT Association of Alumni and Alumna bestows on a member to recognize distinguished service to MIT and/or the Association.

Dr. Foster was a member of the American Society of Engineering Education, the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, the American Geophysical Union and the Masons. He also served as director of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the Chatham Retired Men's Association.

Dr. Foster enjoyed bowling, golf, gardening and music. He was an accomplished pianist and organist.

In addition to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Dr. Foster is survived by a son, Alden, an MIT alumnus (S.B. 1962, S.M. 1964, Ph.D, 1969, all in civil and environmental engineering) and ski instructor in Durango, Colo.; and a sister, Mildred L. Foster, of Brewster. His oldest son, Richard, also an MIT graduate (S.B., S.M. 1954 in electrical engineering), died in 1995.

A memorial service will be held at the First United Methodist Church in Chatham at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12. The family requests that donations in Dr. Foster's memory be made to the First United Methodist Church, 16 Cross St., Chatham, Mass. 02633.

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