Skip to content ↓

Professor Henry Paynter dies at home in Vermont at age 78


Professor Emeritus Henry M. Paynter, a member of the MIT faculty from 1946-85, died on June 14 while working on a project in his study at home in Pittsford, Vt., surrounded by his papers and books. He was 78.

In 1977, Paynter was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. He held six patents on tension-actuator based robotics technology and was known for his contributions to the analysis, design and control of complex multimedia systems and for developing the Bond graph modeling language. Bond graphs are a unique way of describing dynamic models.

Paynter received the S.B. in civil engineering in 1944, the S.M. in mathematics and science in 1959, and the Sc.D. in hydroelectric engineering in 1951, all from MIT. He joined the Department of Civil Engineering in 1946 and became an assistant professor in 1951. He joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1954 on a half-time basis to initiate a systems engineering curriculum. He became full time in mechanical engineering in 1959 and was promoted to associate professor the following year. He became a full professor in 1964. After he retired, Paynter was a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering.

After retiring to Vermont, Paynter became active in the Pittsford Historical Society and did an extensive study of the career of Vermont's Samuel Hopkins, who received the first patent issued in the United States in 1790.

Paynter was a prolific publisher and collaborated widely with colleagues. In addition, he enthusiastically pursued local causes including environmental, forestry and land preservation. He was active in Vermont Coverts Inc., which is dedicated to woodlands preservation.

Paynter received the Alfred Noble Prize of the Joint Engineering Societies in 1953, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Oldenburger Medal in 1979 and the ACC Education Award in 1984. He was a life fellow of ASME, a life member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and a life senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Paynter was born in Evanston, Ill., and raised in New York. During his MIT career, the family lived in Reading.

He leaves his wife of 57 years, Gayllis A. (Beasley); a sister, Jane Solit of Deposit, N.Y.; two daughters, Emily of Durham, N.C., and Martha of Natick; three sons, Bruceof Newark, N.J., Kenneth of Herzliya, Israel, and Neil of Hancock, Mich.; 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Gifts in his memory may be made to the MIT Henry Paynter Memorial Fund and addressed to the Recording Secretary, MIT Office of the Treasurer, 238 Main St., Suite 200, Cambridge, MA 02142-1012; or to the Pittsford Historical Society Inc., P.O. Box 423, Pittsford, VT 05763. A memorial service was held in Pittsford on June 22.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 17, 2002.

Related Topics

More MIT News