University Park

Penn State engineering alumnus, benefactor remembered

Harvey Brush, left, alumnus and longtime Penn State benefactor, died on July 12, 2019. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Harvey F. Brush, 99, alumnus and longtime Penn State benefactor, died on July 12, 2019. Brush, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1942, contributed more than $2 million to the College of Engineering and the College of Education over the years. 

His work with the College of Education was in memory of his late wife, Geraldine Brush, who died in 1988, and resulted in the Geraldine Brush Faculty Fellowship, Geraldine Brush Graduate Assistantship in Education and the Geraldine W. Brush Endowment for Excellence in the College of Education. In 1989, he established the endowed Harvey F. Brush Chair in the College of Engineering to support a faculty member focused on interdisciplinary research and education. 

“I will very much miss Harvey,” said Steven Schiff, Harvey F. Brush Chair in the College of Engineering. “I will miss my conversations and visits with him. He gave me my career.”

Schiff first met Brush in 2006 when Schiff was appointed to the chair position. 

“I made it my policy to spend the majority of his funds on supporting Penn State students,” Schiff said. “His support touched the lives of so many of our graduate students who had limited resources and helped give them the education and future careers that they deserved.”  

Brush’s endowment helped to sustain research projects and funded stipends for graduate students. It also helped to support the seed funding to start the Center for Neural Engineering and a new graduate program in neural engineering in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. 

“Many students have been able to further their educations because of Harvey’s funds,” Schiff said. “And that’s what he wanted. He loved to see that we were adapting his investments for the greater good at Penn State and on this planet.” 

Schiff credits Brush for his help on numerous projects over the last several years that allowed him to advance his research in controlling infectious diseases in infants in developing countries. 

“I used his endowment to explore new ways of melding engineering with medicine, as well as to explore ideas at early stages, well before any funding agency would think that the work was far enough along to warrant grant support,” Schiff said. 

After receiving the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Pioneer Award in 2015, Brush called Schiff delighted that his support had been nurtured into such widely recognized work. 

When he received a second NIH Director’s Award in 2018, Brush again called Schiff.

“Harvey congratulated me, and I said, ‘Harvey, we did it. We did this together, you and I,’” Schiff said. “He tried to protest mildly on the phone, but you could tell how much he liked this idea, and I meant it. It was a partnership.”

Shortly after graduating, Brush was inducted into the U.S. Navy as an ensign. While in the military, he studied radar and assisted in development and maintenance of radar equipment. He was deployed to Hawaii, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Tokyo and Yokohama over the course of four years, eventually becoming an officer. He was discharged in 1946.

Brush went on to work for Bechtel Corporation for more than 40 years, retiring as the executive vice president of its parent company, Bechtel Group, Inc. In his time at Bechtel, he also served as president and director of the Bechtel Foundation, an organization that partners with global nonprofits to promote education in STEM. 

After retiring from Bechtel in 1986, Brush served as vice chairman and chief operating officer and eventually assumed the presidency of California Energy. During his career he also served as manager of Nanofilm, a company working to develop thin film technology; part owner of PetrolPhysics, a company that develops techniques for horizontal drilling of oil wells; director of Nimrod Petroleum, Inc.; and governor of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). He was a recipient of the ASME James N. Landis Medal and life member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. 

Brush also served on several Penn State committees and boards, including the Eberly College of Science Astronomy Board of Visitors and the Leonhard Center Advisory Board. Brush received the Penn State Engineering Outstanding Alumni Award in 1984, the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1985 and the Alumni Fellow Award in 1999. 

Brush had three sons with Geraldine: Richard, Gregory and Barry. Brush remarried in 1997, to Margaret Meier, who died in 2009.

Brush was most recently residing in Los Angeles.

“We are going to continue to accomplish a lot of good for our students and society with what his endowment has enabled,” Schiff said. “Harvey had an amazingly rich and long life. He believed strongly in Penn State, stood behind that belief with major support and remained involved with us until the end.”

Last Updated December 18, 2019