March 03, 2011

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Raymond J. Forkey, a 1940 graduate of WPI, a longtime member of the Board of Trustees, and a generous friend of the university, died Feb. 23, 2011, in Jupiter, Fla., at the age of 94.

"Ray Forkey was an outstanding athlete and a warm and generous human being," WPI President Dennis Berkey said. "He was one of the first alumni with whom I met after joining WPI, and his excitement in telling me about his famous 98-yard punt that won a critical game against RPI was fully revealing of his competitive spirit and deep love of WPI. A generous benefactor and strong leader on the Board of Trustees and in the Alumni Association, he will be remembered fondly by many."

Forkey became a WPI trustee in 1968, the year the Institute first admitted women undergraduates and one year before a faculty planning committee drafted what would become the groundbreaking academic program called the WPI Plan. He served until 1989, when he was elected a trustee emeritus. One of his more memorable assignments was chairing a committee charged with deciding whether the football program, which has suffered several losing seasons, should continue.

"The decision was an easy one," he recalled in 2000. "After polling alumni, faculty and students, it was clear that the WPI community was overwhelmingly in favor of retaining football."

Forkey had a keen interest in that outcome, having played on the 1938 football team--the first in WPI's history to complete an undefeated season. Over his four years at WPI, he earned 12 varsity letters (four each in football, basketball, and baseball), while also excelling as a mechanical engineering major (he was elected to Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, all four years and was selected for Skull, the senior honorary society). His accomplishments as a student-athlete won him induction into the WPI Athletic Hall of Fame in 1983 as a member of the hall's inaugural class.

After graduation, Forkey's athletic interest focused on the golf course, where he excelled as an amateur player, frequently winning course and club tournaments (he won the club championship at the Mariner Sands Country Club in Stuart, Fla., at the age of 78). He served for a time as president of the American Seniors Golf Association (he was named to the ASGA Hall of Honor in 1991) and as a member of the board of governors for the International Seniors Amateur Golf Society. With his wife, Janet, he played more than 100 national and international courses.

In 2002, as he approached his 50th year as a member of the Worcester Country Club, where he was a 12-time club champion, he completed a detailed accounting of his golf milestones, which ran to six pages. He shot under his age more than 300 times during his lifetime, including one memorable round in 1991 when he scored 71 at Muirfield Links in Gullane, Scotland, site of many British Opens.

Forkey's professional career began just after his WPI graduation, when he became a field sales agent for Norton Company in Worcester. In 1952, he joined Coppus Engineering Company, a Worcester-based manufacturer of turbines, blowers, and burners. He was named president and CEO in 1957, and went on to expand the company's product line, add international sales, and grow the workforce threefold and sales sevenfold. He sold his controlling interest in the company and retired in 1980.

As an active and loyal WPI volunteer, Forkey served for two years as president of the WPI Alumni Association, was vice chair of the Centennial Fund campaign from 1964 to 1967, and chairman of the Capital Program campaign from 1979 to 1983. He was a member of the WPI Presidential Founders, the President's Advisory Council, and the Alden Society. He and Janet created and made frequent contributions to the Raymond J. Forkey '40 Scholarship Fund at WPI, and they supported the refurbishment of the conference room in Harrington Auditorium (which now bears Ray Forkey's name), helped fund a major renovation of Higgins Laboratories, and contributed to the construction of the Campus Center, where Forkey Commons on the lower level recognizes the couple's generosity.

Ray Forkey was predeceased by his wife (they had been married for 69 years) and a daughter. He is survived by a sister, a daughter, a son-in-law, three granddaughters, and one great-granddaughter. Services will be private; burial will be in Hope Cemetery in Worcester.

Contributions in memory of Ray Forkey may be made to the Raymond J. Forkey Scholarship Fund, WPI, 100 Institute Road, Worcester, MA 01609-2280.