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Former MIT President, Electrical Engineering Professor Emeritus Paul E. Gray, ex-W2UWN, SK


Former Massachusetts Institute of Technology President (MIT) President Paul E. Gray, ex-W2UWN and K1ZVT, of Concord, Massachusetts, died on September 18. He was 85. Gray had a nearly life-long association with MIT, including turns as student, professor, dean of engineering, associate provost, chancellor, president, and MIT Corporation chair. He served as MIT’s 14th president for the decade 1980 until 1990, and chaired the MIT Corporation for another 7 years before returning to teaching and advising. He was an emeritus professor of electrical engineering.

“Gray transformed the Institute through his commitment to enhancing undergraduate education and increasing the presence of women and underrepresented minorities on campus,” an MIT obituary said. “With his wife, Priscilla King Gray, at his side, he helped guide MIT through the social change and technological transformation that marked the second half of the 20th century.”

Gray’s administration is credited with expanding MIT’s industrial relations and developing major research in the areas of communications, health sciences and technology, microelectronics, and brain and cognitive science. His public service included 4 years on the White House Science Council and its Panel on the Health of Universities. He was vice chair of the nonprofit Council on Competiveness, advocating on behalf of public understanding of science, federal support for research and higher education, and collaboration between academia and industry.

Gray became a radio amateur as a young teen in the 1940s, first as W2UWN in his native New Jersey, and later as K1ZVT. He let his Amateur Radio license lapse in 1970.

“I can remember as early as first and second grade making things electrical, like electromagnets,” Gray recounted during an MIT Infinite History interview. “Winding copper wire on a nail and being able to turn it on and off. And that just continued through as far back as I can remember. I was involved in making gadgets around the house. If anything could be taken apart that was electric, from clocks to radios or whatever. By the time I was 10, I was doing radio repair for the neighbors, vacuum tube radios at that point of course. As soon as the war ended I got myself licensed as an Amateur Radio operator and built all my equipment.”

Gray said he was influenced by his utility technician father’s curiosity about and experiments with electricity that led him into his own interest in radio, starting with a crystal radio and later a regenerative receiver built during World War II when Amateur Radio was suspended for the duration. Gray said he entered high school “with the conviction I was going to study electrical engineering.”

According to MIT, Gray, as a professor, was part of a 1960s effort “to overhaul the way electrical engineering was taught, moving the focus away from vacuum tubes and squarely onto semiconductor electronics.” Working with colleagues at MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Raytheon, and IBM, he wrote seven textbooks and other materials. Gray served on the boards of directors of Boeing and Eastman Kodak and was a Life Trustee of the Boston Museum of Science and Wheaton College. He was a life fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Gifts in Gray’s memory may be made to MIT’s Aging Brain Initiative to support research on Alzheimer’s disease. A memorial service will be held on October 1 at Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, Massachusetts. An MIT memorial service is planned for November 30, at 3 PM in Kresge Auditorium. — Thanks to MIT; Mike Keane, K1MK, and media accounts