Harry Edwin Williams Jr.

Dedicated engineer and professor, beach-lover

Harry Edwin Williams Jr., a longtime Harvey Mudd professor, died suddenly at Pomona Valley Hospital on September 23, 2015 of complications from a stroke. He was 85.

He was born in Pasadena on March 11, 1930 to Elizabeth Dylan Williams from Palmer, Massachusetts and Harry Edwin Williams Sr. from New York City. Harry Jr. grew up in Pasadena in the house they built on Winston Avenue and spent weekends and summers in the Cape Cod-style cottage they built on Balboa Island. As teenagers, he and his brother David Williams loved sailing and racing their Albatross 28 around Newport Beach. 

He attended Cathedral High School in Los Angeles and received his degree in mathematical engineering from Santa Clara University in 1951. Mr. Williams was an avid athlete, and was passionate about swimming and soccer. He played soccer in college and at Caltech, where he went on to earn his master’s degree in 1952 and then a PhD in 1956. 

He met Jane Helen Johnson, the love of his life, at Caltech and they were married in Pasadena in 1955. Jane was from Seattle, Washington. In 1956 he received a Fulbright Fellowship and spent a year at the University of Manchester, England where they lived until 1957. Mrs. Williams became pregnant and returned to California while Harry drove his brand-new original Volkswagen Bug from Germany to California via New York, where he and his father drove across the country together.

Mr. Williams joined Harvey Mudd College in 1960 as a professor with Jet Propulsion Laboratory colleague Jack Alford. Initially he was in the physics department, but he helped to build the engineering department and taught there for 40 years. In addition to teaching he was a regular contributor to the top journals in applied mechanics, publishing numerous articles over the years. He also worked as a consultant and researcher for the US Navy, JPL, General Dynamics, Aerojet and Boeing Aerospace.

Mr. Williams fell in love with England in 1956 and returned many times during his life, including two years he spent there with his family on sabbatical. This amazing opportunity provided an invaluable experience for his family. Just when he was embracing retirement, Harry lost his wife Jane in 1999 to cancer. Sadly, Harry suffered another great loss in 2013 with the death his youngest daughter Devon Jane Bishop.

Mr. Williams retired in 2000 but remained an active part of the Harvey Mudd College community as a professor emeritus, maintaining an office and continuing to publish collaborative works. To quote John Molinder, “Needless to say, [Harry’s] faculty colleagues and generations of students have benefited greatly from his insistence on and example of excellence.”  

Mr. Williams was a true scholar and never stopped pursuing things that interested him. He loved his life at Harvey Mudd College, brainstorming with his colleagues and enjoying riding his bicycle there every day to have lunch and a swim with his friends until the very end.

Harry cherished his many lifelong friendships, which he valued greatly until he died, each one holding a special place in his heart. His greatest pleasure was to spend time with his family, especially if it involved the beach. He was a dedicated, generous and loving father and grandfather. He was a constant guiding light in all their lives and his presence will be sorely missed.

He is survived by his daughters, Robin Williams and her husband Christopher Rooke, Kim Williams Littlefield and her husband Les Littlefield, and Bryn Williams Caisse and her husband Eric Caisse. He also leaves Devon Williams Bishop’s husband John Bishop and granddaughters Austyn Elizabeth Caisse, Hannah Jane Caisse, Hayden Kathryn Rooke, Fiona Rose Bishop and Ivy Elizabeth Bishop.

A service will be held on Saturday, October 24 at 11 a.m. at Balch Hall at Scripps College, located at 1030 Columbia Ave. in Claremont. A reception will follow, held across the street at the McAlister Center.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the City of Hope or Doctors Without Borders.

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