Griffith John McRee Jr., who spent three decades as a faculty member in Old Dominion University's Batten College of Engineering and Technology and also served as chairman of the University Senate, died Dec. 1. He was 86.
McRee came to the college as an assistant professor after earning his doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Virginia in 1970. He eventually served as associate and interim dean of the college. He was also a faculty representative to the Board of Visitors.
"As a mediator and leader, he played a very important role in the development of university governance at ODU," Phil Raisor, an emeritus professor of English, recalled in an online memorial post.
McRee was born Sept. 21, 1934, in Blackstone, Virginia. After graduating from high school, he accepted an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, also known as West Point, graduating in 1956. (Norman Schwarzkopf of Desert Storm fame was one of his classmates.) McRee served in the military for 20 years and was awarded a Bronze Star and an Air Medal for actions during combat in Vietnam.
After returning to the United States, he was assigned to the faculty at West Point, where he taught mathematics - and found a passion for teaching.
"Grif was a great colleague - very approachable and helpful to colleagues from other departments," said Robert Ash, professor and Eminent Scholar of mechanical and aerospace engineering. "He brought the best of a military background to our University: Prompt response to requests for information and help on projects. Observe the academic hierarchy. No nonsense - just get it done. He always had a smile - even when he didn't think an idea was going anywhere."
At ODU, McRee worked on NASA's Viking One Mars lander team. He was a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
He also started the ODU Emeriti Book Club.
"He had such a bright curiosity about him and shared so many great ideas and experiences with our ODU book club," Petra Snowden, director of the Faculty Emerti Association, wrote in a memorial post.
Former colleagues also recalled his kind and accommodating nature.
"I've known Grif McRee since 1983, when I joined the ECE department as an assistant professor," said Vishnu K. Lakdawala, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. "He was extremely helpful when I purchased my first home. He had good friends in the real estate field, and I will always be grateful for his help when I was a new faculty member on campus."
Linda Vahala, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, added: "He was very helpful to me when I moved into the dean's office. He was stalwart - an anchor for many."
McRee had a wide range of interests beyond academics. He loved skiing and sailing; he founded Hobie Cat Fleet 57. He was involved in local community and philanthropic initiatives, serving as a longtime volunteer with Festevents.
Lakdawala said McRee hosted department Christmas parties at his Virginia Beach home.
"He was an extremely jolly person with a great sense of humor," Lakdawala said.
McRee is survived by his wife, Susan Rives McRee; sons Griffith John McRee III (Deborah McRee and her son Brian Fowlkes), Dr. Robert Carter McRee and William Fletcher McRee; daughter Blair McRee Camp (Dr. James Thomas Camp); granddaughter Emma Elizabeth Camp, and sister Elizabeth McRee Hodges. He was predeceased by his sister Helen McRee Hall.
A private service will be held at Galilee Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach. A celebration of his life will be held in the summer of 2021.
Memorial donations may be made to the United States Military Academy. You can give online by going to WPAOG.org. Online condolences may be offered to the family at hdoliver.com.