Deaths in the family

Author: The editors

The student body went coed in 1972, but it wasn’t until 1976 that Notre Dame hired its first female endowed professor, Joan Aldous. The William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology emerita died on October 29, 2014, at 88 years old.

Aldous brought family and gender studies to the fore when she joined the faculty, and did so at a time when women were carving new paths for themselves both at Notre Dame and in the world. In her 35-year tenure at Notre Dame, she published influential work on family policy, work and families, the effects of divorce on children and paternal child care. Fittingly, she was also instrumental in the creation of the University’s Gender Studies Program.

Her groundbreaking career was inspired by another pioneer: her mother. Aldous was 12 when her father died suddenly. To support the family, her mother returned to school at Columbia University and then went on to teach at Kansas State University at a time when it was unconventional for women to teach at that level.

Following some of the themes of her mother’s family relations work, Aldous fashioned an academic career for herself that lasted until her retirement in 2012.

If you were one of the fortunate engineering students who took Stuart McComas’ courses in heat transfer and thermodynamics from 1963 to his retirement in 2000, chances are you remember the office hours. It wasn’t just his smile or his gentle manner. McComas was devoted to his students — especially undergraduates encountering internal energy or entropy for the first time — and would take whatever time they needed to truly learn.
Generosity defined the emeritus professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, who died in October 2014 at age 82. His wife, Carol, preceded him in death in February.

Born in a farmhouse southeast of Indianapolis, McComas left Indiana to study mechanical engineering at Marquette and Minnesota before joining the faculty at Notre Dame. A short list of his administrative responsibilities helps tell the story of ND engineering over the last 50 years: McComas was the college’s first doctoral-level research director, a minority student mentor, and an instrumental developer of programs for undergraduate research and high school students.

“Whatever he did, he did well,” says Thomas Mueller, the emeritus professor and former department chairman under whom McComas served as associate chair. Always he did it with humility. When asked what made his efforts so special after winning the college’s Outstanding Teacher Award in 1986, McComas laughed and said, “I have no idea.”