Deaths in the family

Author: Notre Dame Magazine staff

There may be no higher compliment paid a teacher by a former student than the one Princeton University biologist and Nobel laureate Eric Wieschaus ’69 gave his old Notre Dame professor a few years ago when he told Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Lens magazine how “*Harvey Bender* showed me it was possible to have a good life as a scientist.” Bender, a genetics expert whose Drosophila laboratory at Notre Dame was an early proving ground for Wieschaus’ prizewinning work in the embryology of the infamous fruit fly, died in October 2011 at age 78.

Bender came to Notre Dame in 1960 as a young developmental biologist with enviable research credentials. But what Dr. James Gajewski ’78 remembers was the “absolute dedication to teaching” his professor displayed to the thousands of students who took Bender’s courses over the next 50 years. Known as a phenomenal lecturer, Bender liked to joke, provoke and ask questions and became known for essay-driven exams in which students had to think through genetics problems based on confounding data sets. Gajewski, who uses the same techniques with his medical students, called the exercise an “extraordinary gift” to generations of doctors and research scientists.

Many of those students also became dinner guests in the home where Harvey and Eileen Bender ’77Ph.D. raised three children and shared their Jewish faith with visitors through a short prayer service before each meal. Such acts of hospitality continued, Gajewski notes, even after a lost tenure battle at Notre Dame, a successful discrimination lawsuit and settlement forced Eileen Bender to pursue her academic career elsewhere. Harvey, who followed his spouse in death by one year, loved his Notre Dame students and what he considered their atypical zeal for deeper values. Now, the Bender children and several of those students are working together to create a lifetime teaching award for science faculty in his name.

When Guillermo O’Donnell died in November of 2011, the moment evoked tributes for his seminal writings on authoritarianism and democracy from colleagues around the globe. At Notre Dame the professor emeritus of political science will be remembered foremost as one of the scholars whose labors put the University’s rising international studies programs on the map.

O’Donnell was “already an academic superstar” in 1982 when then-president Father Ted Hesburgh, CSC, and Father Ernest Bartell, CSC, ’53 recruited him to serve as the first academic director of the nascent Kellogg Institute for International Studies, says Scott Mainwaring, the institute’s current director. A native of Buenos Aires who observed firsthand in Argentina many of the political processes he would scrutinize in his research, O’Donnell would not receive his doctoral degree from Yale University until 1987, the year after the publication of Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, a classic volume he co-edited with scholars at the Woodrow Wilson Center. His capacity for asking big-picture questions about the origins, weaknesses and strengths of emerging democracies and his evident concern for the dignity of the poor shaped influential concepts in works that were translated into several languages. In 2006, the International Political Science Association presented him its inaugural lifetime achievement award. For Mainwaring, “He stands as one of the most important thinkers about democracy and dictatorships in the history of political science.”

For 15 years at ND, O’Donnell applied his gifts to the tasks of shaping Kellogg’s research agenda, attracting prominent scholars to campus and sending energized graduate students into the social sciences. His encouragement of the work of promising younger academics mirrored the collegiality so esteemed by his peers. “His analysis and insights are as important today as they have ever been,” one wrote in a tribute published on Kellogg’s website. “Guillermo O’Donnell will be missed.”

Nai-Chien Huang, who died in January of 2012 at age 80, produced one book in an academic career that spanned five decades: a collaboratively written textbook on solid propellant rockets published in 1969, the year of the first manned lunar landing and his first on the aerospace and mechanical engineering faculty at Notre Dame. But the list of nearly 100 published technical papers in his curriculum vitae is littered more illuminatively with words like “fracture mechanics,” “creep buckling,” “fatigue crack speed,” “snap-through,” and “collapse” — just the sorts of things that undoubtedly lure thousands of imaginative former children into serious engineering studies every year.

Colleagues remember the Chinese-born and educated Huang in part for his good humor, so it’s not difficult to imagine the delighted boy inside the serious researcher who wrote “Dynamic Instability in Ice-Lifting from a Flat Road Surface through Penetration with a Sharp Blade.” Until his retirement in 2001, Huang was ND’s authority in structural design, fatigue and fracture whose expertise was sought by the likes of Amoco, U.S. Steel and the U.S. Air Force. His research explored the causes and consequences of failure in a wide array of materials and applications, from industrial yarns to aircraft fuselages. Emeritus Professor Victor Nee says his friend and former colleague brought the same uncompromising eye to the students in his undergraduate and graduate courses in such subjects as Mechanics, Dynamics, Elasticity and Thermal Stresses, and it won Huang tremendous respect.

“He was a great teacher, always impeccable in his presentation,” wrote Professor Joseph Powers. “He loved Notre Dame, its students and faculty, and he was a great role model . . . including for me.” Huang is survived by his wife of 49 years, Geraldine, and their two children.

Charles “Lefty” Smith, the father of Notre Dame hockey, passed away in January of 2012, three days after his retirement and two days before his 82nd birthday.

Smith, a legendary Minnesota high school coach, came to the University in 1968. He not only coached Notre Dame’s first varsity hockey team but also managed the ice rink in the newly completed Athletic and Convocation Center (eventually named the Joyce Center), ran skating classes, started a youth hockey league and taught the Zamboni drivers how to lay the ice.

When Irish hockey moved into the new Compton Family Ice Arena this past October, Smith dropped the puck for the opening game — on the ice at Lefty Smith Rink.

Smith coached for 19 seasons, won 307 games, earned some Coach of the Year honors and produced six All-Americans. All 126 players who skated for Smith completed their collegiate eligibility and earned degrees. But Smith’s legacy went far beyond such achievements. “Lefty created an extended family through his time as our coach,” said All-America forward Greg Meredith ’80, one of more than 80 players who participated in the “Lefty Fest,” attended by 37 family members and 250 members of the Irish hockey community.

“Beyond being a hockey coach,” said Matt Boler ’88 at the February event, “I’ve never seen a man who was so compassionate, so full of life and so engaged. He truly loved his players, he loved his friends and family. He’s a seminal character of Notre Dame.”

When Smith left coaching in 1987, he supervised 22,000 volunteers when the University hosted the International Special Olympics, whose 6,000 athletes from 72 nations competed in the 12-day event, and became facilities manager at the University’s Loftus Sports Center. There until this past winter, his office walls were blanketed with photos of friends and former players and their children — the people who made hockey a family sport with Smith at the helm.