News  >  News Article 

In memoriam: Ferdinand P. Beer, professor

Beer played a leading role in defusing campus tensions in the tumultuous early 1970s.
A native of Binic, France, Beer joined the Lehigh faculty in 1947 and was appointed the first chairman of the new department of mechanics in 1957. His three best-selling textbooks--Mechanics for Engineers: Statics and Dynamics, Vector Mechanics for Engineers, and Mechanics of Materials-- have been translated into a dozen languages.
All three books were published by McGraw-Hill Book Co., and were co-written by E. Russell Johnston Jr., who served as a professor of civil engineering at Lehigh before heading the same department at the University of Connecticut.
Mechanics for Engineers: Statics and Dynamics won the 1976 Graphic Arts Award from Printing Industries of America Inc.
From the point of view of engineering education, those books were Beer’s major accomplishment, says Fazil Erdogan, G. Whitney Snyder professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and mechanics, former dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and a colleague of Beer’s.
`A calming influence’
From 1970 to 1971, Beer exercised a calming influence on the student body when he was appointed the first chairman of the University Forum, a legislative body whose 125 members consisted of students, faculty and administrators, Erdogan recalls.
Lehigh established the Forum to give students and faculty a place to meet, Erdogan says. This was at a time when, at other universities around the country, students were rioting and conducting sit-ins. Beer, perhaps more than any other member of the faculty or administration, gained the confidence of the students. He had a calming effect on students and, in this critical time, he offered a not inconsiderable service to Lehigh.
Beer chaired the mechanics department until it was merged with the mechanical engineering department in 1968. From 1968 to 1977, he served as chairman of the new mechanical engineering and mechanics department.
As a researcher, Beer studied the response of mechanical systems to random loads. His work was supported by NASA, Boeing, the U.S. Army Engineers, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, the Federal Civil Defense Administration and other government agencies and private companies.
Recognized by his peers
In 1971, Beer received Lehigh’s R.R. and E.C. Hillman Award for advancing the interests of the university, and in 1983, he earned the engineering college’s Service Teaching Excellence Award.
In 1974, the Middle Atlantic Section of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) gave Beer the Western Electric Fund Award for excellence in the teaching of engineering students. In 1980, Beer received the Distinguished Educator Award from the Mechanics Division of the Science Society.
A member of ASEE, Beer served as chairman of the society’s mechanics division and as chairman of its Middle Atlantic section. He was also a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Association of University Professors.
In addition to his three textbooks, Beer wrote a textbook (in French) on calculus and contributed numerous articles to technical journals.
Prior to coming to Lehigh, Beer taught at Williams College for four years. Previously, he had served on the staff of the University of Kansas City.
Beer received his license in mathematics at the University of Geneva in 1935 and his Ph.D. from the same school in 1937. He held a master’s degree from the University of Paris, and did post-graduate work at Brown University.
Beer was predeceased by his wife, Vivienne C.M. Beer. His survivors include two daughters, Marguerite V. Schaeffer of Hellertown, and Dr. Michelle C.M. Beer of Miami, Fla.
A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 3, at the John F. Herron Funeral Home, 458 Center St. (the intersection of Center and Market streets), Bethlehem. There will be a calling hour from 9 to 10 a.m.
--Kurt Pfitzer
Share this story: