Former Dean of Engineering Gary Purdy has been appointed a member of the Order of Canada, in recognition of his contributions to material science and engineering, and for his dedicated support for refugees, peace efforts and social justice.
It is the latest honour for a man whose commitment to a better world has left an indelible mark on the university, the world of materials science, and the local peace community.
A visionary, Purdy saw the importance of multidisciplinary connections and educating engineers about the role they must play in solving some of society’s thorniest problems decades earlier than most. In 2004, he was inducted into McMaster’s Alumni Gallery and has received the distinguished Alumni Award. He was also voted one of 125 people who made the most impact over McMaster’s 125-year history.
Purdy says he was surprised and honoured by his appointment to the Order of Canada.
The country’s highest civilian award, the Order of Canada recognizes lifetime achievements of individuals whose work has made the country and world a better place.
Materials Science & Engineering department chair Hatem Zurob, who helped prepare Purdy’s nomination, pointed to his “outstanding scholarship but also his moral leadership to inspire future generations.”
“Dr. Purdy was one of my teachers in undergrad and my PhD supervisor,” said Zurob. “I was so fortunate to have him as a mentor. I learned so much from him both inside and outside the classroom.”
“I was always impressed by how he was both a very successful scientist and a tireless community leader who advocated peace and helped the less fortunate. When I was completing my PhD, Dr. Purdy had two offices – one in the Engineering Building and the other in the Humanities building, as he was serving as the director of the Centre for Peace Studies.”
“Our Faculty has been shaped by the outstanding scholarship and leadership of Dr. Purdy and we congratulate him on this recognition,” says Heather Sheardown, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering.
“He reflects the values that Canada seeks to promote in the world, of humanity, concern for our fellow citizens, and the desire to improve society by education.”
In 1962, Purdy became McMaster’s first PhD graduate in metallurgical engineering.
He chose to spend his career at McMaster and over the next five decades, his scientific breakthroughs and engineering innovations contributed to building the fledgling department into the best in Canada.
Purdy served in various academic roles, including as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering from 1989 to 1994.
But he says it was his work as a scientist and a teacher that gave him the most satisfaction.
“I made some discoveries that started new fields of research. They were really quite unexpected findings and they started a lot of debate and research. That was fun and it might have led to some more advances in the science of materials,” he says modestly.
In fact, Purdy is responsible for “conducting some of the most highly acclaimed experimental and theoretical work on the advanced alloys of our time,” says Zurob.
His career of discovery made major contributions to the study of microstructure development in engineering materials and gave birth to new areas of research and fields of materials science.
His numerous awards include the Hillert-Cahn Lectureship, the Canadian Metal Physics Medal, and both the Sawamura Award and Guimarães Award of the Iron and Steel Institute of Japan.
Purdy is an elected Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and an elected Fellow of TMS, the Metallurgical Society, ASM International, the Canadian Institute of Metallurgical Engineers and the Royal Society of Canada.
Along with his scientific contributions, Purdy also collaborated with a variety of industrial partners on engineering innovations. That work was acknowledged by the Rio Tinto Alcan Award and the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Award.
A noted teacher, Purdy was known for his patience, understanding and concern for students.
He mentored 30 PhD students and 20 master’s students, with a number of his former students now holding prestigious academic, industry and government positions around the globe.
“I really liked the combination of research and teaching and working with bright students, and we had a lot of those,” Purdy recalls.
During his stint as dean, Purdy launched the Engineering & Society program. The unique program lets students earn an engineering degree while taking electives from other disciplines. Its curriculum focuses on exploring how engineers can work on social issues the require complex technological solutions.
“We thought the program would draw students with a very particular interest in society and the way technology and society interacts,” said Purdy. “It became very inquiry based and student interest based, so it worked out really well.”
Purdy’s promotion of peace and social justice issues, along with his decades of work supporting refugees has earned him recognition as the conscience of the university and the conscience of his community, says Zurob.
“He is an outstanding example of an academic leader providing a rare combination of deep scholarship and moral leadership.”
He served as director of McMaster’s Centre for Peace Studies from 1999 until 2003.
He is also a founding member of Democracy Probe International, a non-partisan initiative working to address critical issues such as democracy, climate change and sweat labor by organizing seminars and running workshops.
In retirement he has continued his contributions to the community, following one simple mantra.
“If I see a need and I can do something about it, I try to help,” says Purdy.