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Professor emeritus Frederick J. McGarry dies at 86

Polymer engineering professor, alumnus was at MIT for more than 50 years.
Frederick J. McGarry, professor emeritus of polymer engineering
Frederick J. McGarry, professor emeritus of polymer engineering

Frederick J. McGarry, professor emeritus of polymer engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) died March 27 after a long illness. He was 86.

McGarry was associated with MIT for 52 years, first coming to the Institute as a student in a joint undergraduate degree program with Middlebury College. In 1950, he earned an AB in physics and math from Middlebury and an SB in mechanical engineering from MIT. He then received an SM in mechanical engineering/materials from MIT in 1953.

Prof. McGarry’s first appointment at MIT was in the Materials of Construction Division in CEE, and he joined DMSE in 1975, as a direct result of MIT’s concentrating and strengthening its efforts in polymer education and research. He taught many subjects over the years, notably in polymer engineering, behavior of plastics and fracture of materials.

Throughout his career, he had many research collaborations inside and outside MIT, including with colleagues at Dow Corning, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, American Cyanamid and BF Goodrich. His research centered on polymer engineering, including fiber-reinforced composites. Of his many pioneering contributions in this field, perhaps the most notable was the development of rubber toughening in thermosetting resins, a vital part of modern composites technology.

In addition to his research and education roles, McGarry served as secretary of the faculty, director of the Program in Polymer Science and Technology, chair of the ROTC program, and director of the Summer Session (now the Professional Education Program). Over the course of his career, he participated in multiple international programs, including in the 1960s the MIT Inter-American Program in Civil Engineering, which examined a collaborative initiative to solve engineering problems common to the United States and Latin American countries.

McGarry, who was born and raised in Vermont, lived for many years in Weston, Mass. He was widowed in 1971 when his wife and the mother of their six daughters, Alice R. McGarry, passed away. The couple had met and married when she was a graduate student at Harvard.

He leaves his longtime partner, Norma Webb; his six daughters, Martha McGarry Miller of New York City, Alice Aldridge of Weston, Mass., Joan McGarry Cole of Newport Beach, Calif., Carol McGarry of Sherborn, Mass., Susan McGarry and Janet McGarry Bassett of San Francisco; four grandchildren; and his older brother, John J. McGarry of Scottsdale, Ariz.

McGarry was a longtime member of the St. Botolph’s Club in Boston, where he had many friends. He loved skiing in Vermont, travel and classical music and held season tickets at Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Handel & Haydn Society for many years. After his retirement, he and Norma spent winters in Florida.

A funeral service will be held on Saturday, April 6, at 11:30 a.m. at St Julia's Church in Weston. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to MIT for the Frederick J. McGarry (1950) Memorial Fund. Checks should be payable to MIT and mailed to Bonny Kellermann ’72, Director of Memorial Gifts; 600 Memorial Drive, W98-500; Cambridge, MA 02139. Please include a note stating that your gift is in memory of Frederick J. McGarry.

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