From The Washington Post on April 2, 2021:
When Babatunde A. Ogunnaike, a professor at the University of Delaware, was asked to be dean of the College of Engineering in 2013, he confided in his mentor, William “Bill” Friend.
Ogunnaike and Friend developed a relationship after Ogunnaike was named the distinguished William L. Friend chair of chemical engineering in 2008. When he spoke with Friend, he was unsure whether he wanted the job because he loved working with students and the administrative work didn’t appeal to him.
“Accepting this job is not really for you,” Ogunnaike remembers him saying. “There’s that young African American in Wilmington, Delaware, who will see you in that position. You don’t even know he exists. And who would say to himself, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ That is one of the reasons you should do this.”
Ogunnaike says he knew then that he had to take the position. He describes Friend as a silent but highly influential presence: “He leaves meaning. That’s if he’s giving money, time, anything, it is always for a purpose and you will see that purpose.”
Friend died of complications from covid-19 at Reston Hospital on Jan. 27, 2021. He was 86.
Friend was born on June 17, 1935, in New York City. His mother was a governess who emigrated from Germany and his father a cabdriver from New York. After graduating from Stuyvesant High School, he attended the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now part of New York University and renamed Tandon School of Engineering. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in chemical engineering in 1956 and then went on to complete a master’s in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware in 1958.
After completing his education, Friend started work at Lummus Co. of New York, beginning his 41-year career in international engineering and construction. He worked there for 13 years, beginning as a process engineer in Newark. While working for Lummus, he and his wife at the time, Roberta Kurtz Friend, had two children, Walter and John.
They moved in 1972 to Kansas City, Mo., where Friend would serve as president and chief executive of J.F. Pritchard and Co. He accepted a job in Houston working for the Bechtel Group in 1977. Friend’s career at Bechtel spanned 21 years, with field assignments in San Francisco, New York, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.
“He didn’t have a hard time landing in a new place and establishing a base,” John Friend said. “But I think the thing I’m most impressed by is that he never let go of the bases and other places that he went to.”
Bill and Roberta eventually divorced. Years later, in 1995, when Friend was in Bechtel’s San Francisco office, he was introduced to Mary Kay Mislock, who would become his second wife.
“We met and knew this was something special,” she recalled about their blind introduction. Mary Kay lived in Vienna, Va., at the time. She said they flew across the country to maintain their relationship until, by chance, Bechtel wanted Friend to move to Washington, D.C., for a new assignment in 1996. He bought a house in McLean, Va., that the couple later moved into after they were married in 1997. He retired from Bechtel as executive vice president and director in 1998.
Friend had a large presence in the chemical engineering field. In 1993, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest honors in the field, for “leadership in the development in new technology and their application in commercial facilities.”
In 2004, he was awarded a Medal of Distinction from the University of Delaware, and in 2005, he was given an honorary doctorate of engineering from Polytechnic. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and held positions on various boards, including at Polytechnic, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering and the Institute of the Americas in La Jolla, Calif. He established two endowed scholarships for students to pursue chemical engineering at Polytechnic, which Mary Kay Friend said are typically for first-generation college students like Bill was.
Friend was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005, and in 2017 moved into Brightview Great Falls, a senior assisted-living and memory-care facility in Virginia. John Friend said his father was still strong, despite his condition progressing enough to affect his memory and verbal fluency.
On Jan. 5, Friend was sent to Reston Hospital after Brightview staff believed he had a stroke. There he tested positive for the coronavirus. He was stabilized and had recovered enough to be sent back to Brightview after six days in the hospital. On Jan. 19, he was hospitalized again with low oxygen levels and difficulty breathing. Doctors think covid-19 exacerbated his Alzheimer’s, and he was placed in hospice care. He died eight days later.