University remembers engineering professor, steel metallurgy expert

In the final weeks of his struggle with mesothelioma, Gary M. Michal, PhD, LTV Steel Professor of Metallurgy in Case School of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, could no longer come to the classroom. But his commitment to his students was so great he insisted on reviewing their last exams, assessing their final projects and, three days before he died, determining final grades.

“He didn’t want to be spared the burden, because he didn’t see it as a burden,” said department chair, James McGuffin-Cawley, PhD. “He said something to the effect that his physical limitations didn’t impair his ability to perform this aspect of his job, and therefore he really should complete the term for the students.”

Funeral services for Michal take place Thursday, May 17; calling hours commence Wednesday at the Nosek-McCreery Funeral Home.

Michal is survived by his wife, Maureen, and children Matthew, Stephanie and Brian. His family was by his side when he passed Friday, peacefully and without pain. He was 58.

Michal, who chaired the department from 1996 to 2007, battled his disease for four years, but never let it dim his enthusiasm for his life or his work. He found great joy in sharing concepts and continued to teach, advise and even present groundbreaking addresses all the way through his illness. Last month, he gave the Honorary Zay Jeffries Lecture to the Cleveland chapter of the American Society of Metals. The talk was described as “masterful,” and an audience member reflected the feelings of many when he opened his question with the words, “Gary, you have always been a visionary.”

Indeed, Michal was renowned internationally for his expertise in steel metallurgy, and often called upon by industry leaders for his insights. He was known within his department as a “deep thinker,” someone who regularly went beyond individual experiments and projects to see potential for larger breakthroughs—and then realize them. McGuffin-Cawley cited as one example an individual piece of research that helped others understand and apply a new heat treatment process.

“Sometimes the implications of his observations were profound,” McGuffin said, “and could change a segment of the metals industry.”

Michal always sought to assist and engage others. He collaborated freely with colleagues on campus and around the world, and found great joy in conveying concepts to in a way that all could understand. As one student wrote: “Prof. Michal’s class has been a highlight of my [college] career. [He is] intimidating in his command of the material and entirely welcoming in his demeanor.”

Throughout his career Michal’s work with students won him multiple teaching awards from disciplinary organizations and nominations from those on campus. He also collected all manner of recognition for his scientific accomplishments, including the Meritorious Award from the Iron & Steel Society for Bar Product Physical Metallurgy, the NASA Certificate of Recognition for Creative Development of a Copper Alloy for High Temperature Use and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. He received his endowed chair in 1990, and five years later won election as a fellow of the American Society of Metals International. Three years ago the Case Alumni Association presented him with an award for meritorious service.

As McGuffin-Cawley explained: “He is the type of man to which, on my good days, I aspire to be.”

Calling hours will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, 2012, at the Nosek-McCreery Funeral Home, 8150 Brecksville Rd., Brecksville, OH 44141. They will continue from 10 to 11 a.m. Thursday, May 17, 2012, at Christ the Redeemer Lutheran Church at 9201 Brecksville Rd., Brecksville, OH 44141, followed by funeral services at 11 a.m.