In Memoriam: Russell O’Neill PhD ’56, Dean Emeritus of UCLA Engineering

Oct 24, 2007

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Russell R. O’Neill PhD ’56, Professor and Dean Emeritus of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, died at his Sherman Oaks home on October 11. He was 91.

By Matthew Chin

O’Neill joined the UCLA Engineering faculty in 1946 as one of its first members and stayed with the school until his death. Before joining the faculty, O’Neill was a design and development engineer in the Midwest and in Los Angeles.

His research interests were in maritime cargo handling, logistics, systems engineering and transportation. His work at UCLA led to the development of a general-purpose computer system for handling the operations of complex cargo movement and other systems. This project was one of the first to use computer simulation as a research tool, and it contributed to modernization of the cargo movement system and the adoption of standardized containers.

O’Neill was appointed dean of the School in 1974 and served until 1983. Prior to becoming dean of the school, he served in several administrative posts including assistant head of Engineering Extension, assistant dean for Graduate Studies, coordinator of the Engineering Executive Program and as the assistant director of the Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering. He also served as acting dean on two occasions.

“Dean Emeritus O’Neill was a very important contributor to the illustrious record of the school and his long tenure here helped maintain a vital connection to our beginnings,” said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of the school. “He was completely dedicated to UCLA Engineering and many generations of our students. Under his leadership, the school reached national prominence. We will miss him greatly.”

In 1975, O’Neill was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the highest professional distinction that can be conferred upon an American engineer. O’Neill was recognized for his “contributions and leadership in the fields of engineering education, maritime cargo handling systems, and maritime transportation engineering.”

In 1977, he was awarded the UCLA University Service Award, which honors individuals who have significantly enriched the substance of UCLA and whose efforts have added depth and stature to the reputation of the university. In 1983, O’Neill was awarded UCLA Engineering’s Alumnus of the Year Award, which honors the superior achievements of alumni who have brought honor and distinction to the school.

O’Neill retired in 1983, but remained actively involved in teaching and the community. He was recalled to UCLA to teach the core engineering course, “Ethics and Society,” which he taught until the fall of 2006. And from 1993 until 1996 he taught “The Future of Space” in an Elder Hostel program, taking students on field trips to Edwards Air Force Base. Since its inception in 1983, he has been an active board member of “Stone Soup” the exemplary after school program for children.

Born in Chicago, O’Neill lived in Los Angeles since childhood. O’Neill started his university education in 1934 at UCLA, then transferred to UC Berkeley to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.

Though he had wanted to be a teacher, O’Neill started his career in the defense industry, working as a design engineer with Dow Chemical in Midland, Mich. in the early 1940s. In 1944, he returned to Los Angeles and continued work in the defense industry. A few years later, encouraged by the then Dean L.M.K. Boelter, he became a lecturer and extension studies representative at UCLA Engineering. While working full-time in these two positions, he earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at UCLA.
He was a member of Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, the American Society for Mechanical Engineers, the American Society for Engineering Education, and American Materials Handling Society.

O’Neill is survived by his wife, Sallie; sons, Richard and John; stepchildren, Stephanie Ballard and Ross Noden; and two grandchildren.

UCLA Engineering will hold a celebration of O’Neill’s life on at 2 p.m. on Nov. 20 at the UCLA Faculty Center. For information on the memorial celebration, please call the Office of External Affairs for the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science: (310) 206-0678.

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