O’Brien Jr., Walter Fenton

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Walter F O’Brien Jr. Professor Mechanical Engineering.

Walter Fenton O’Brien Jr., age 82, of Blacksburg, Virginia, passed away Thursday, July 25 at his home surrounded by his family. He was born in Roanoke, Virginia, on February 4, 1937 to the late Walter Sr. and Estelle O’Brien.

Walter grew up in Roanoke, Virginia where he met Nancy Brooks O’Brien, his beloved wife of 60 years. They have two daughters, Julie Miller (husband George Miller) and Kelly O’Brien, and two grandchildren, Rebecca Klein (husband Ryan Klein) and Rachel Miller.

Walter was a renowned researcher and educator in the field of mechanical engineering. He served Virginia Tech for 52 years in roles that included the J. Bernard Jones Professorship (1985-2019), Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies for the College of Engineering (1990-1993), and head of the Mechanical Engineering Department (1993-2004).

Over the course of his career, he supervised the graduate work of over 130 M.S. and Ph.D. students, and published more than 150 technical papers and journal articles in the field of propulsion.

Among Walter’s extensive list of accomplishments, he was a Life Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He received the SAE’s Teetor Award as an Outstanding Engineering Educator, ASME’s Dedicated Service Award, and a Virginia Tech Outstanding Teaching Award. In 2003, he received the Virginia Joint Engineering Society’s Pletta Award as the Outstanding Engineering Educator in the state of Virginia.

While his research achievements are many, the opportunity to serve as “Coach” to his many students were among his proudest moments. He often said that the most satisfying part of his work has been to see his students graduate into the technical community and continue to contribute to the advancement of the field.

As much as Walter loved his work, he cherished the time spent with his family and friends. His home was always open to those returning to Blacksburg for a football game, or for impromptu dinner parties with his graduate students. His granddaughters cherish the time spent with him, and the way he could sneak in a science or life lesson during their numerous outings.

He traveled the world, taking his family on a tour of Ireland, cruises every spring, and to South Carolina for the annual family beach trip. His favorite pastimes were building model airplanes, working on model trains and his 1967 Barracuda, and enjoying classical music.

His generous spirit and immense capacity for joy made every holiday special, Christmas most of all. May his unwavering positive outlook inspire those who miss him to continue his legacy of bringing people together and celebrating all the good things in life.

The family will receive friends on Sunday, July 28 from five to seven in the evening at the McCoy Funeral Home, 150 Country Club Dr. S.W., Blacksburg, Virginia. A private burial service will follow.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the charity of your choosing.

The family would like to extend a special thanks to Good Samaritan Hospice, especially Terry, Denise, Chris, and Todd, for their kindness and support.