Bill Kays

William 's Obituary

William Morrow Kays
July 29, 1920 - September 9, 2018

William Morrow (Bill) Kays died peacefully at age 98 on September 9, 2018, surrounded by his family on the Stanford Campus, his home since 1938.

Kays was born in 1920 in Norfolk, Virginia to Herbert Kays (1882-1963), a Captain in the US Navy, and Margaret Fechteler (1894-1971), the daughter of a prominent Naval family. Kays spent his childhood in various coastal cities, including San Francisco, Honolulu, Washington DC, and San Diego. He graduated from Coronado High School in 1938 with an interest in cars and engineering and as a member of the ROTC. Always a fan of the Stanford Cardinal football team, Kays studied Mechanical Engineering at Stanford and graduated with a BS in 1942.

Shortly after graduation Kays was called to serve in the US Army, and ended up on the front lines during WWII as a combat engineer in the First Infantry Division. He and his men played a role in the invasions of North Africa, Tunisia, Sicily, and Normandy (Kays is one of the soldiers wading ashore in Robert Capa’s iconic Life Magazine photographs of D-Day at +1.5 hours,) and he was in Czechoslovakia on VE day. Despite the odds, Captain Kays survived almost two years of active combat, and the war years (1942-1945) remained some of the most formative in his life. In 1994 Kays wrote a memoir of that time called Letters From a Soldier based on 123 letters he wrote to his family back home as well as photographs and recollections.

After the war, Kays returned to Stanford and completed his PhD in Mechanical Engineering on the GI Bill. He then embarked on a successful career at Stanford, first as an Assistant Professor in 1952 and eventually becoming Dean of the School of Engineering in 1972. His primary research was on Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer, which led to books and publications that became foundational to the development and understanding of modern radiators and other heat exchangers. He spent two years at Imperial College in London on Fulbright scholarships, and was a member of the National Engineering Association and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, from whom he won the Max Jakob Memorial Award. As a leader at the School of Engineering, Dean Kays drove efforts to hire and enroll more women, utilize computers across the School, and fund numerous research programs and projects. He retired in 1990.

Kays married Alma Campbell (1923-1982) in 1947 and together they raised four daughters. He loved to spend time with his family at their cabin in the Sierras. Along with his lifelong passion for Stanford football games, which he attended right to the end, Kays enjoyed traveling, photography, bird watching, archaeology and history. He rarely missed his evening martini.

Kays is survived by his wife Judith Kays (nee Schultz), his three daughters Leslie Kays Hunger, Margaret Kays Faye, and Elizabeth Rowan-Mitchell, his two stepsons Dan Adams and Robert Adams, his fifteen grandchildren, and his eight great-grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his first wife Alma and his eldest daughter Nancy Kays (1948-2011).

Bill Kays had his greatest moments of joy when in the company of his family. He was always interested in their lives, always generous with his time, and always engaged with them. He could connect with people of all ages and simply accept them and allow them to be who they were. At times he could be very serious and other times he acted the part of a trickster who kept one guessing about who the joke was really on. He was humble and understated, but one always felt welcome in his presence.

The memorial service for Bill will be held on November 19 at 3:00 pm at Stanford Memorial Church, followed by a “celebration of life” reception at the Stanford Faculty Club. All are welcome. For those planning to also attend the reception, it would help our planning if you could please RSVP to Margaret Faye by November 1, at In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent in Bill’s name to a beautiful state park that he held close to his heart, located near the family cabin: Calaveras Big Trees Association, P.O. Box 1196, Arnold. CA 95223.

I was a grad student in ME many years ago. Kay’s was department head and Bob Eustis was one of the ME profs.

One feature of life at that time was the lunch hearts game. It was in the upper reaches of the old ME building where I was located. Traditionally, it was partners with students versus faculty. Kay’s was a regular player. My vocabulary was enlarged at these events.

This was a time of student unrest (mid 60s) and some of our grad students wanted to debate one of the rebel leaders. Kay’s advice was don’t do it. “You’re an amateur and he’s a pro. There are about 2000 students who will go to a protest if the weather is good, 200 who are intellectually committed to the cause, but you are dealing with one of the 20 who has been practicing his speech for the last five years.” Our guy didnt go.

Last Story - One of the grads bombed out on his third thesis topic after five years in the program. Kay’s took over as principal adviser and scheduled weekly meeting with him. He was out with his degree in 18 months.

Finally, I believe he was in the D Day landings as a young combat engineer.

Jim Shaw





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