Obituaries

Paul Lagacé

July 20th, 2021

Paul Lagacé, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, died July 16, 2021 unexpectedly in his home in Wilmington, Massachusetts. He was 63.

A longtime member of the MIT community, Lagacé graduated from Course 16 (aeronautics and astronautics) with his bachelor’s degree in 1978, his master’s in 1979, and his PhD 1982. He joined the faculty in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1982.

Lagacé’s research focused on the design and manufacture of composite structures and materials mainly used in the aerospace industry. The work of his research laboratory, the Technology Laboratory for Advanced Materials and Structures, or TELAMS, ranged from characterizing a basic understanding of composite materials to exploring their behavior in specific structural configurations to computational modeling in solid mechanics. The lab also worked on the design, fabrication, and testing of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), along with their associated materials and processes.

“Paul’s most significant research contributions were in building an intellectual bridge between the material properties of emerging advanced composites, and their application to and certification in aircraft structures,” says Edward Crawley, the Ford Professor of Engineering and a longtime colleague of Lagacé in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Lagacé was widely recognized for his research expertise, particularly as it applied to the response and failure of composite structures, and the development of composite structures technology and the safety of aircraft structural systems. He was highly sought-after as an advisor and consultant to industry and government agencies on aspects of structural technology and broader engineering systems. He has served as a consultant, expert witness, and member of committees and panels in the investigation of accidents and their implications.

Lagacé held fellowships with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Society for Composites, and the American Society for Testing and Materials (now known as ASTM International). He served as president of the International Committee on Composite Materials and was recognized as a World Fellow of Composites and Honorary Member of the Executive Council.

In addition to his research, he was actively involved in education and service to MIT. Lagacé taught courses in mechanics of materials and structures with special emphasis on composite materials and their structures. In 1995, he was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, an honor that recognizes outstanding classroom teaching, significant innovations in education, and dedication to helping others achieve teaching excellence. He served as co-director of the MIT Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM — now Leaders for Global Operations, or LGO) and Systems Design and Management (SDM) programs, which are both co-sponsored by the School of Engineering and the Sloan School of Management. Drawing on his own experience, Lagacé was instrumental in launching MIT’s First-Generation Program. For many years, he was the lead faculty marshal during MIT’s commencement celebration, leading the faculty procession at the beginning and end of the ceremony.

Lagacé, a first-generation college student, grew up in Lewiston, Maine. He described his hometown as a “blue-collar town” that attracted many French-Canadian immigrants like his grandparents to work in the mills that used energy generated from the nearby Androscoggin River to produce shoes, textiles, and bricks. Lagacé’s parents — a self-employed painter and paper-hanger and a stay-at-home mother who worked part-time as a bookkeeper for her husband’s business — supported his goal to further his education, making it possible for him to attend a Jesuit high school and expanding his horizons by giving him a book about colleges one year for his birthday. Growing up during the advent of the Space Age had a profound effect on Lagacé; his interest in aerospace coupled with his academic strengths in math and science led him to MIT.

“In my many years of working with Paul, it was always clear to me that he loved MIT and he especially loved our students,” says Daniel Hastings, head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Cecil and Ida Green Education Professor.

Outside of MIT, Lagacé was a passionate sports fan particularly devoted to the Boston Red Sox. After seeing his first game at Fenway Park with his grandfather in 1968, Lagacé wove the Red Sox into his life in countless ways, from lining up a business trip with their travel game schedule to taking his future wife to a game on their first date. To the delight of local media, Lagacé also found a way to integrate his love of the Red Sox with his aeronautical knowledge into a real-life problem set for his students.

In the early 1990s, Lagacé observed that fewer balls seemed to reach the center field stands. He worked with his undergraduate students to construct a model of Fenway Park, which they then tested in MIT’s Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel to simulate the wind and baseball trajectory pathways. He concluded that a recently constructed press box created a wind vortex that prevented baseballs from reaching as far as they used to.

Paul was the beloved husband of Robin P. Lagace (Pare), cherished son of the late Lucien and Claire (Malo) Lagace, dear brother of Daniel Lagace and his wife Elyse of Voluntown, CT. Brother-in-law of Michael Pare of Pawtucket, RI and Robert and Wendy of Pare of Bow, WA. Paul is also survived by many friends and colleagues.

Family and friends will gather for Visiting Hours at the Nichols Funeral Home, 187 Middlesex Ave. (Rte. 62), Wilmington, MA, on Friday, July 23rd from 4:00-7:00 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will take place on Saturday, July 24th at 10:00 a.m. in St. Williams Church, 1351 Main St. (Rte. 38), Tewksbury, MA.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Paul’s memory to the Epilepsy Foundation of New England, 1 Dunham Road #200, Billerica, MA 01821 or to the Dana-Farber Jimmy Fund, P.O. Box 849168, Boston, MA 02284-9168.

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9 Entries in Guest Book for “Paul Lagacé”

  1. Dave and Pat Boccuti-McTiernan says:

    We were devastated to learn of Paul’s passing. He was a friend, mentor and an example to so many. We will miss him dearly and always remember his loud cheers at the Red Sox games, the many July 4th pool parties and his piano playing, leading the caroling at Christmas parties. Rest his soul.

  2. Terry Weisshaar says:

    While Paul’s passing is devastating it does give comfort to remember that there are certifiably good people in this world.Paul and I toured part of the world together. He gave his “Wade” cheer in the Moscow subway and held Happy Hours in Beijing. He was a great friend to me, Mary, Meredith and Barry. We, like all his friends, have enough memories to fill a book. He loved the world and it loved him back.

  3. Stephen and Barbara Nolet says:

    News of Paul’s passing shattered our hearts and has left a hole that will not soon be closed. So much will be said about his endless professional contributions to both the Institute and the Materials Technology and is a significant part of his legacy; but it is the far more extensive trail of positive impacts he had on people, their lives, careers, moral character combined with the joie de vie that he brought to those he touched which will be most venerable.

    For me personally, Paul is the singular person in my life that through his friendship, inherent desire to serve as an example and mentor, and kindness put me on the path that would determine my entire professional life. More importantly, he took the time to shape a young person and provide the support and engender the confidence to enter the world as a successful professional. Barb and I owe him everything for all we have experienced over a lifetime and for what we enjoy today. He will forever be my big brother and the most enduring personality in my life.

    To Robin, please know our thoughts are with you and to the extent we can carry the burden and grief of your loss, we offer that support. He will be so deeply missed, but the many memories and wonderful moments you both provided through your kind hospitality will be cherished always.

  4. ASTM Committee D30 on Composite Materials says:

    We are still shocked and very saddened about the sudden passing of our colleague and friend Dr. Paul Lagace. Paul was noteworthy in several ways. His many technical accomplishments will be listed elsewhere. For us at ASTM committee D30, he served as the “technical conscience”, ensuring that our standards reflected the highest technical quality and rigor. Paul was also an outstanding resource for D30 leadership, helping explain committee history and serving as a “voice of reason” who helped with many challenges in resolving ballot issues. Lastly, Paul was an important contributor to strengthening the relationships between ASTM and other composites-related organizations like CMH-17 and ICCM. Beyond his technical contributions, Paul made committee meetings memorable. His personality was infectious and led to a great camaraderie among committee members. We will most certainly miss him when it comes time to order margaritas when we go out to dinner after executive meetings.

  5. Adam Sawicki says:

    It is so difficult to put in words the significance of Paul’s passing to me. He was the person who took a chance on giving me a job in the spring of 1986, which was a true turning point in my career (who knows if I would have ever become involved in composites?). Since that time, I have been privileged to know Paul as my lab director, professor, professional colleague, mentor, fellow ASTM D30 member and friend. I greatly enjoyed the work we did together the past few years in D30, which gave me the chance to collaborate with Paul on a regular basis.

    What is truly amazing is that Paul gave that job to a Yankees fan (he must have had a momentary lapse of reason during the excitement of that baseball season). It seems that the time we shared together corresponded to some big moments in Boston vs. New York sports history:
    - Being a student in his 16.20 class in the fall of 1986 (when I was guilty of leaving notes on the chalkboard after games 6 & 7 of the World Series)
    - Getting to watch the Yankees win the 1998 World Series at his home when he and Robin hosted us D30 and CMH-17 participants
    - Paul and the Sox FINALLY getting their revenge against the Yankees during an October 2004 D30 meeting in Atlanta, then going on to win their first World Series in 86 years
    - Giving a presentation to his MIT class a day after Super Bowl 42 (Manning to Tyree)

    Robin, I wish you well and I am certain you realize how many of us feel privileged to have known Paul, and thank you for sharing him with us all these years.

  6. Doug Raymond says:

    My condolences to Robin and Paul’s family. I am very sad to learn of Paul’s passing.

    I was lucky enough to be part of Paul’s greatest passions of Red Sox and fastpitch softball. I was his 3 to his 1 for the 1-6-3 play. Unfortunately they did not always worked. We had a special name for when the batter had his ground ball batted away by the pitcher in a way that the no could make a play on it. We called it a “Lagace”. So many laughs and good times playing a game we all loved.

    Shared many Red Sox games as part of the MIT congregation of Section 34 season ticket holders. Somewhere Yaz is having a moment of silence. Psycho wanted to put his pants at half mast but this time remembered where he was. Laughing at the time someone lost 20 bucks because he bet against Paul being an MIT professor. So many memories.

    He will be greatly missed.

  7. Leif A Carlsson says:

    The news i received yesterday about Paul’s passing were crushing. We corresponded just a couple of weeks ago, in a most upbeat manner. Paul to me was a very easy-going but serious professional, who contributed much to the field of composites and sandwich structures.

  8. Mr. Alan Chassse says:

    So sorry to hear this news . He was a great guy that cared a lot about the education of youth especially in Wilmington. He presented a lesson on baseball pitching to my class of eight graders in the 1980″s. Always will be remembered by many for his knowledge and caring way.

  9. Carl Rousseau says:

    God bless Paul for all he gave to others in life, and to Robin for being part of his life as well as that of all their many friends and colleagues. He was a tremendous professional mentor and friend. We shared a passion for both advancing the technical state of the art, and enjoying the lighthearted comradery of our peers around the world. Congratulations, Paul, on a life well lived!

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