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William Gould (Bill) Dow, an electrical engineer who founded dozens of labs and programs at the College of Engineering and was a beloved figure on campus for more than half a century, died on Oct. 17 in Bellevue, Wash. He had celebrated his 104th birthday Sept. 30.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, Dow described himself as “a first-class engineer in the field of physical electronics, a pretty good teacher and a damn fine promoter.” His longevity came from exercise and “choosing the right grandparents,” he said. “When I was 85, I lost one of the major arteries in my heart. But other arteries will do the job—if you ask them every day.”

Dow taught electrical engineering from 1938 to 1965 and served as department chair in 1960–65. Long after his “retirement,” Dow was a regular feature on campus and at the headquarters of ERIM—the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan—for which he was an emeritus trustee. He also held regular weekly lunch meetings with colleagues at Pierpont Commons and was active in the Ann Arbor Rotary Club. His 100th birthday was marked by a two-day celebration on campus in September 1995 that brought in students and colleagues from around the country.

“He was a very personable, kind man,” said George I. Haddad, the Robert J. Hiller Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, who earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees under Dow in the late 1950s. “He really loved to promote good people. He was about the most unselfish person I’ve ever known.”

Haddad said that, at the time of his death, Dow was still chipping away on a paper about nuclear fusion that he hoped to get published. He had been working on it for 35 years, and had two patents related to fusion in the 1980s. “His mind was very, very sharp, but he had lost his hearing,” Haddad said. Following the death of his second wife two years ago, Dow left his Arbor Hills home to live with his sons in Waco, Texas, and Bellevue, Wash.

During his 38 years of active service to the College of Engineering, Dow was responsible for creating and organizing 13 laboratories and research units, including Space Physics Research, Plasma Engineering and the Cooley Electronics Laboratories. He co-founded the Willow Run Laboratories (now ERIM) and created a unit to administer research grants, now called the Division of Research Development and Administration.

Dow was considered a leader in establishing the link between cutting-edge research and good teaching, and setting the precedent for faculty to conduct research for federal government agencies and private corporations.

“I have always considered him to be the father of modern electrical engineering at Michigan,” Haddad said. Though most of Dow’s career was during the vacuum tube age, he started a course on transistors shortly before retiring. “It was probably the first of its kind in the nation,” Haddad said. He also published a classic textbook on physical electronics, Fundamentals of Engineering Electronics, which many considered “the first usable textbook in electronics,” and which was a staple of the curriculum for nearly 20 years.

He was one of the pioneers of space exploration, and served on a group called the Rocket Research Council, which predated NASA. He also was the key driver behind the establishment of computer engineering and nuclear engineering programs at Michigan, the first of their kind in the nation.

A native of Faribault, Minn., he received his B.S. from the University of Minnesota in 1916 and his E.E. from Minnesota in 1917. His M.S. was completed at Michigan in 1929, and in 1980 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Colorado.

Dow was a lieutenant in the Army Engineering Corps in World War I, worked for a few years in engineering sales and testing, primarily for Westinghouse, and then joined the U-M in 1926 as an instructor. During World War II, he worked on radar countermeasures at Harvard University’s Radio Research Laboratory, reducing the effectiveness of enemy radar by almost 100 percent, and saving countless lives of allied airmen.

William Gould (Bill) Dow