Francis M. Kobayashi, professor emeritus of aerospace and mechanical engineering and assistant vice president emeritus for research at the University of Notre Dame, died Dec. 27 (Tuesday) at Hospice House in South Bend, Indiana. He was 91.
Born in Seattle, Kobayashi and his family were forced during World War II into a Japanese internment camp in Idaho, where he graduated from high school. After attending Loras College, he enrolled at Notre Dame and became the first Japanese-American to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University.
He likewise became the first Japanese-American appointed to the Notre Dame faculty, joining the College of Engineering in 1948. For the next 20 years he taught and conducted research on solid and fluid mechanics and systems engineering, including wave resistance of ships and the dynamics of submerged vehicles. He served during the 1959 to 1961 academic years in Washington, D.C., as assistant program director of the engineering science program of the National Science Foundation. Throughout his career, he served as a consultant to several companies, including the Studebaker Corp. and Bendix Corp.
Kobayashi was appointed assistant vice president for research and advanced studies in 1967, serving until his retirement in 1995. During his tenure, the University experienced a 10-fold increase in grant funds, and at the time of his retirement Notre Dame established the Francis M. Kobayashi Research Travel Fund to assist faculty with travel expenses for new research.
“For Dr. K, ‘God, Country, Notre Dame’ was not just a saying to be framed and hung on the wall; it guided his actions every day,” said Anthony Hyder, professor of physics and former associate vice president for graduate studies and research. “He brought a sense of dignity and integrity to the campus every day. Those who were fortunate enough to know him were better people for having had him in their lives.”
Anthony Michel, former dean of the College of Engineering, added: “As dean, I had many dealings with Frank concerning research funding and graduate student support. In all my interactions with him, I remember Frank to be a kind, gentle and competent professional. Leone and I have fond memories of social events hosted by Frank and Monique at their lovely home on Lake Michigan in New Buffalo. We will miss Frank very much.”
A member of a dozen University committees throughout his career, Kobayashi also was active in numerous professional and academic organizations, including Sigma Xi and Tau Beta Pi.
Kobayashi was named Teacher of the Year by Notre Dame’s student government in 1958, and he received the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research, Administration and Service in 1972. The Notre Dame Alumni Association presented him with the Rev. John Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C., Award for Distinguished Service to the University in 2006.
Kobayashi is survived by his wife of 53 years, Monique H. Nguyen, three children and a brother.
A Mass of Christian burial was held Tuesday (Jan. 3) at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame, followed by a burial service at Cedar Grove Cemetery on campus.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Francis M. Kobayashi Research and Travel Fund. More information is available here.