In Memoriam: Robert Harvey PhD ’70

Robert Harvey PhD ’70, a long-time friend of WPI and of the Biomedical Engineering Department, died Jan. 1, 2012, just shy of his 80th birthday.

Robert Harvey PhD ’70, a long-time friend of WPI and of the Biomedical Engineering Department, died Jan. 1, 2012, just shy of his 80th birthday.

Dr. Harvey was born in Pittsburgh in 1932. He entered West Point after attending Catholic Central High School in Pittsburgh, and was assigned to Cadet Company F-2. He participated in the Catholic Choir, the Golf Club, and the Handball Club and was a track coach for the company intramural team. He graduated high enough in the class to gain commission in the Corps of Engineers.

After initial branch training Dr. Harvey went to Korea as a member of the 44th Engineer Battalion. In 1957 he resigned his commission and attended graduate school. He earned a master’s degree in physics at Drexel University and then a PhD in biomedical engineering at WPI. Before starting his doctorate, he worked for Thermo Electron in Massachusetts. Dr. Harvey played a significant role in diversifying Thermo Electron in the biomedical field, with the first fully integrated artificial heart . He holds 20 patents, including one for a nuclear (radioisotope) powered artificial heart in 1967.

After earning his doctorate, Dr. Harvey founded Mirlin Corp. in Hudson, Mass., in order to pursue the commercial potential of a unique protein sweetener for diabetics.

Dr. Harvey went on to co-found what is now known as Thoratec Corporation in 1976, remaining its CEO, president, and chairman of the board for 20 years until his retirement in the late 1990s. Thoratec is a pioneering company in circulatory support for failing hearts, arterial grafts for repairing diseased blood vessels, and the licensing of blood contacting biomaterials. The company is known for the development of the LVAD, a left ventricular assist device.

Dr. Harvey’s wife, Suzanne Richardson Harvey, was on the English faculty at Stanford University for almost 20 years. The couple lived on campus in an all-freshman residence hall for nine years and wrote of their experiences in a book co-authored and titled Virtual Reality and the College Freshman: All Our Friends Are 18.

Dr. Harvey was a dedicated supporter of WPI and especially the university’s biomedical engineering program. He served as chair of WPI's Biomedical Engineering Advisory Board for a number of years since its establishment in 1986. He served as an entrepreneur-in-residence in the fall of 1997, while his wife served as an adjunct professor and tutor in WPI’s Writing Center. Dr. Harvey was also instrumental in the development of WPI’s undergraduate biomedical engineering program, providing valuable insight to the design of the program from his extensive work in the industry.

Suzanne Richardson Harvey passed away in July 2010. The couple is survived by three sons, R. Dennis, Brian, and James (Duke), and five grandsons, Kevin, Sean, Matthew, Patrick, and Gregory.

January 31, 2012

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