Sadly, in June of 2021, polyX’s co-founder and dear friend to all, Frank passed away. In addition to being a dedicated engineer and a lifelong learner (he taught himself three new languages after the age of 50), Frank was an avid pilot. It’s hard not to imagine him flying to some exotic destination… and he probably still is.
Cal Poly wrote an article on Frank to commemorate his passing. Frank had worked there for more than two decades (as well at the Maine Maritime Academy, the Hochschule München and Hochschule Karlsruhe in Germany, the Università degli Studi di Bergamo in Italy, and the Dakar American University of Science and Technology in Senegal.) and was a beloved teacher to many.
Below is a reprint of the article from ‘News to ME’, the Mechanical Engineering magazine from Cal Poly.
Frank Owen Remembered as a Life-long Learner
By Pat Pemberton
Frank Owen was already past 50 when he became a world traveler and learned French, Italian and German. And during his semi-retirement, he was still eager to learn new engineering software.
“He was constantly learning new things,” said his friend Pat Lemieux, a colleague in the Mechanical Engineering Department. “He was a life-long learner.”
Owen, who passed away in June at age 68, also implored others to become more worldly.
“Frank was a citizen of the world, a strong believer that all people could cooperate in peace to make the world a better place,” said Fabio Previdi, who first met Owen as a visiting researcher from Italy in 2014.
While he enjoyed traveling to new places, Owen, a native of Columbus, Mississippi, harbored mixed feelings about his own hometown.
“He grew up knowing only the hemmed-in world of segregated Mississippi and Alabama of the 1950s and ‘60s,” Owen wrote in his own obituary. “The family had been stuck in the South for 300+ years. He broke away from all of that and became a proud Californian, contributing to the betterment of that special society.”
“One of his biggest accomplishments, he felt, was leaving Mississippi,” Lemieux said.
At the same time, he added, Owen also talked fondly about parts of the state. “He would constantly fall back on these eulogies about Mississippi.”
Owen was from “a privileged family of lawyers, politicians, judges and journalists,” he wrote prior to his death. Yet, Lemieux said, he lived more simply, driving older cars and wearing modest clothing.
“He just was the opposite of flashy,” Lemieux said.
After beginning his career in industry, Owen transitioned to teaching in 1987, at the Maine Maritime Academy. A few years after landing at Cal Poly in 1998, he would also teach abroad as a guest professor in Germany and Senegal.
“He had this way of showing people the beauty of engineering,” Lemieux said.
In Germany, Owen both taught and conducted research, said Rolf Herz, who initiated a cooperation with Cal Poly and München University of Applied Sciences, which included a faculty exchange, in 1997.
“He and his family integrated exceptionally well,” Herz said. “They all learned German well and made lots of friends.”
At 16, Herz’s son would later spend five months with Owen’s family in San Luis Obispo as part of a high school foreign exchange.
“He and Benji, Frank’s son, became very close friends,” Herz said.
While he began traveling internationally in 2005, Owen’s fascination for international exploration began much earlier.
“He poured over atlases as a boy,” his obituary read, “looking at how countries fit together to form the world.”
Herz and Previdi remembered Owen as a social, understanding and empathetic person, but Lemieux said Owen was also a passionate engineer – a control systems specialist -- who could be stubborn, abrasive and even polarizing.
Even though the two would occasionally have heated debates over engineering, Lemieux was inspired by Owen’s incessant curiosity.
“It pushed me to never stop learning,” he said.
Lemieux met Owen in 2007, and the two eventually launched an engineering consulting business together. They also shared a plane, which they flew from California to North Carolina.
Owen was also passionate about flying.
“The very first day I met him, after an hour talking in his office, he told me, ‘Would you like to see the town?’” Previdi recalled. “I supposed he wanted to take me for a city tour by car or foot. On the contrary, he drove me to the airport and took me on a plane tour of the town.”
After permanently retiring in March, Owen was diagnosed with cancer the following month. He passed away six weeks later.
While the illness deprived Owen of a full retirement, that shouldn’t be viewed as a tragedy, Lemieux said.
“He never regretted the path he took work-wise,” Lemieux said. “His life was richer because of teaching.”
You can find the original article here.