In memoriam: Robert Heller, professor emeritus of biomedical engineering and mechanics
Robert Heller, professor emeritus of biomedical engineering and mechanics in the College of Engineering, died on Nov. 3, 2021. He was 93 years old and, by his own words, "did everything he wanted to do in life,” according to his obituary.
Heller was born in Budapest, Hungary, on Feb. 12, 1928. He described his childhood as happy — until World War II forced his family to go into hiding. He was a Holocaust survivor who was placed in a Swedish safe house, where he bravely protected over 100 younger Jewish children.
After the war, Heller and his family immigrated to New York City to start a new life. He attained his Ph.D. in civil engineering from Columbia University. In 1954, he married Agnes Sekely, the love of his life, and he became a father a few years later.
Heller joined Virginia Tech’s faculty in 1967 and taught there for three decades, until his retirement. He served as the J. Frank Maher professor emeritus during his time at the university. His research interests included elastic behavior of structures, fatigue, reliability, and safety of structures and probabilistic mechanics.
In the early 1960s, Heller co-authored "Structure in Architecture," which was used by multiple universities, translated into 10 languages, and had four editions. He went on to co-author "Salvadori's Structure in Architecture" in 2016, contributed over 100 articles to scholarly journals, and worked with the National Science Foundation to develop educational films now kept by the Library of Congress. He was a mentor to, and loved by, his students and respected by his colleagues. In 1982, he received an Outstanding Educator award.
In addition to teaching and conducting research at Virginia Tech, Heller dedicated himself to national and international endeavors. He was a consultant for the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, the government of Sweden, and Brown, Boveri, & Cie – a Swiss group of electrical engineering companies – in Germany. He was a Fulbright scholar at Technische Universitat Wien in Austria and a visiting professor at Budapest University of Technology and Economics. Heller is endorsed by Marquis Who's Who as a leader in the fields of engineering and higher education. He was awarded the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
Heller was a modest, humble, and selfless man who enjoyed life and minimized life's difficulties. He was a mentor, role model, and inspiration to many, according to his obituary. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Robert Heller scholarship fund, in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech.