In Memoriam: Prof. William T. Peria

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering mourns the passing of Prof. William T. Peria.

Prof. Peria was an ECE faculty member from 1960 to 2001, and was department head from 1970 to 1976. He left an indelible impression on all who met and interacted with him, be they students or faculty members. Since news of his passing, remembrances have been pouring in, and the sentiment that every email or note has expressed is one of gratitude for having known him. He is remembered as being unfailingly kind, a mentor, and a tough but dedicated teacher.

As a teacher, he had high expectations from his students, and was committed to providing them with the best learning experience. About his reputation as a tough teacher, Prof. Beth Stadler has this interesting story to share: “An alumnus from Honeywell led a senior design group with me one semester.  Now successful and paying forward (by helping current students), he ran into Bill one day. He said, “Prof Peria, you were on my thesis committee.” Bill replied, “Oh, give you a hard time, did I?” The alumnus tipped his fedora and said, “Yes, and for that I thank you!” Similar stories about Prof. Peria as an exacting but nurturing teacher abound.

Faculty remember him as a great colleague, a generous mentor, and a friend who freely shared his time and resources. Prof. Ned Mohan remembers being hired in 1975 as an assistant professor, when Prof. Peria was the head of the department. Despite his own research field being different, he introduced Mohan to as many Twin Cities power communities as he knew.

Like Peria, Prof. Doug Ernie too worked with vacuum systems and gas discharges, and he remembers having frequent discussions over their experiment results or problems with equipment. It was in the course of the many lunches at Campus Club, where Prof. Peria regularly held a table, that Ernie learned about his involvement in the development of standard surface diagnostic techniques, and the establishment of Physical Electronics in 1969. In Ernie’s words: “I can’t thank him enough for all his help, advice, and friendship over the years. He will be greatly missed.”

Prof. Peria is also remembered for being an unassuming individual, who had a deep dislike for awards. Prof. Bill Robbins notes: “I recall him on several occasions offering the opinion that the paychecks we receive for doing our jobs serve as faculty awards.”

Of his generosity, Prof. Rhonda Franklin has this to say: “He was one of the first in the department to help me set up to conduct porous silicon research and generously shared resources he had in his lab.” On a similar note, Prof. Stadler comments how he gave her spare parts for a sputtering system in her lab, when it needed repairs, during her early days in the department when she had no funding of her own.

In all the remembrances coming in from faculty, there is the constant note of Prof. William Peria being a friend and a principled man. An instance recounted by Prof. Jim Leger illustrates this: “I remember walking to the Campus Club with him one cold winter lunchtime. We all stopped at the stoplight to cross Washington Ave.  There being no cars in sight, we started to walk across the street, against the red light.  At the other end, we looked around to see Bill still standing at the light.  We waited for him to cross when the light turned green. When he rejoined the group he said, “You know, if you don’t show concern for the law in front of these students, they are never going to respect it.” 

Prof. Jim Holte’s words probably best represent the department’s collective sentiment: “Bill was my best friend. No one can replace him.”

To honor the work and legacy of Prof. Peria, ECE faculty will be meeting at the Campus Club on Friday, Feb. 10, at 4:30 pm.

Obituary on Prof. William T. Peria in Star Tribune