‘Always willing to help’: UC Berkeley professor Andrew Packard dies at 59

Renowned Berkeley Citation award winner and beloved professor of mechanical engineering, Andrew Packard, passed away last week at the age of 59 after a long battle with cancer.

Known for his innovative work in robust control theory and efforts in modernizing UC Berkeley’s engineering curricula, professor Packard had a reputation for his extraordinary effort in working with students. Despite his 2014 diagnosis of prostate cancer, professor Packard remained dedicated to his work and his students until he passed away Sept. 30.

“Andy is among the most gifted teachers we have at Berkeley,” Kameshwar Poolla, campus professor of mechanical engineering and close friend, said in a letter recommending Packard for the UC Berkeley Citation award. “He stands apart on the basis of his superhuman effort and tireless commitment to the education of UC Berkeley students at all levels.”

Packard was also renowned among his colleagues for his innovative teaching techniques and efforts toward revamping the engineering curricula to reflect the most current material.

Some colleagues have even mentioned amending their own class curricula to reflect the modern approaches Packard pioneered.

Professor Packard came to UC Berkeley in 1982 as a graduate student in mechanical engineering, and joined the department faculty in 1989 after earning his doctorate in automatic control systems. According to campus professor of mechanical engineering Francesco Borrelli, he is especially known for his role in the development of the Robust Control ToolBox, a technology used today by major companies like Boeing and Airbus.

Aside from teaching and research, Packard was an avid fan of sports and followed Cal Athletics closely. He was known for his eccentric love of logrolling, a sport he picked up as a young man, according to his sister Hilary Packard.

Packard added that her brother enjoyed sharing his passion for sports with students, recently having taken a group of them to an Oakland A’s game to enjoy a day at the ballpark. In the past, he even brought groups of research students out to Pinecrest Lake to learn how to logroll with him, according to Borrelli.

Packard’s colleagues recalled groups of eager students so large, they would spill out into the hallway during office hours.

“Andy was very generous to students, as he was always willing to help them with their research whether they were his own research students or were supervised by other faculty members,” Roberto Horowitz, chair of UC Berkeley’s department of mechanical engineering, said in an email.

Professor Packard passed away in Alta Bates Hospital, surrounded by his family, friends and students. He is survived by his wife Johanna, mother Ann, son Zachary, his four sisters, Hilary, Betsy, Jean, Kathie and dog Addison.

Packard “cared about every single person” and was “anything but plain,” according to his sister Hilary. “His life was bigger than the time he had with us.”

Contact Jacob Souza at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.

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