Edward V. McAssey Jr., 86, formerly of Valley Forge, a longtime professor of mechanical engineering at Villanova University, an interim dean of the school’s College of Engineering, and the former chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, died Saturday, Oct. 16, of sepsis at Lancaster General Hospital.
An expert on heat transfer, nuclear reactors, flow instability, and other intricate things, Dr. McAssey found it difficult to retire from Villanova. He stepped down in 2003 — and again in 2005 — only to be lured back by special engineering projects and a deep affection for his students.
One former student recalled Dr. McAssey nudging his class to do better on their heat transfer exams. “In real life, it is not acceptable to get a C,” Dr. McAssey had told them. “You cannot build a bridge and have it only work 70% of the time.”
In addition to serving as professor, chair, and interim dean, Dr. McAssey served as associate dean for academic affairs, as the first James R. Birle professor of energy technology at Villanova, and as associate director of Columbia University’s Heat Transfer Research Facility.
He won Villanova’s 1975 Lindback Award for excellence in teaching, and the 1979 Farrell Award from the College of Engineering Student Council for “exemplary personal concern for students.” The American Society of Mechanical Engineers named him a fellow in 1992.
“He had a curiosity and enthusiasm about learning,” said Barry Johnson, Villanova’s former dean of the College of Engineering and a student of Dr. McAssey.
Ever creative, Dr. McAssey established Villanova’s nuclear energy course offerings and won several grants, including one in 2002 to develop a thermal design for a telescope package on the space shuttle. He often spoke to media outlets as an expert on nuclear energy and reactors, and was in demand in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima nuclear power plant on the eastern coast of Japan.
In 1995, Dr. McAssey wrote a guest column for The Inquirer in which he outlined the importance of engineers, and he championed the inclusion of women and people of color in the field. “As we approach the next century,” he wrote, “the key question for this country is: Will we have the engineering talent needed to meet future challenges?”
“He had a high energy level. It didn’t matter who you were, he was going to help you,” said his son Edward III, who, with his wife Linda, endowed Villanova’s Heat Transfer Lab that was then named after his father.
Born Sept. 17, 1935, in Queens, N.Y., Dr. McAssey earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now the New York University Tandon School of Engineering. He joined the mechanical engineering faculty at Villanova in 1967, and got his doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968.
He served stateside in the Army after college and then worked for the Grumman and RCA Corporations. He met Anne Buckley in New York, and they married in 1958. They moved to Valley Forge and raised sons Edward III and James, and daughters Mary and Kathy.
Dr. McAssey was an avid Villanova basketball fan. He attended Mass regularly, liked the theater, and traveled to Ireland. An indefatigable volunteer, he tutored struggling students, delivered food to a local mission, assisted the needy at St. Agnes Day Room in West Chester, and served on the school board of St. Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia.
“He was a person you didn’t forget meeting,” said his daughter Mary Krueger.
He liked to spend time with his family at the Jersey Shore, and make pancakes for his grandchildren. He was known for his patience, and his family made a poignant tribute video.
“He kept on giving his whole life,” said his wife. “He knew how to do the little things, the important things.”
In addition to his wife and children, Dr. McAssey is survived by 14 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, two sisters, and other relatives. Two infant sons, John and Joseph, died earlier.
Services were Oct. 25.
Donations in his name may be made to Amigos de Jesus Home for Children, P.O. Box 476, Malvern, Pa. 19355, and Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of The Poor, 2130 South 21st St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19145.