Elmer Grant Gilbert, professor emeritus of aerospace engineering, died June 16 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at age 89 from congestive heart failure.

He was born March 29, 1930, in Joliet, Illinois, with his twin brother Edward Otis, to Harry A. and Florence O. Gilbert. Elmer and Ed spent their youth building and creating things, including ham radios and a large antenna tower in their back yard.

Photo of Elmer Grant Gilbert
Elmer Gilbert

In college and university, they pursued the same academic field, both earning Ph.D.s in instrumentation engineering at the University of Michigan in 1957.

In 1957, Elmer and three colleagues — Ed Gilbert, Robert M. Howe and J.B. King — founded Applied Dynamics Inc., a company that initially designed and built state-of-the-art analog computers. Elmer continued in a consulting role with ADI until 1970. ADI continues in Ann Arbor as Applied Dynamics International, designing and building real-time simulation systems using digital technology.

Elmer joined the U-M faculty as an instructor in 1954, beginning a distinguished career in engineering research and teaching. He became a full professor in 1963. Much of his work was in theory and application of control systems. Many of his solutions to problems in control theory are standard references in academic literature and textbooks.

He authored over 100 publications and held nine patents, and held visiting professorships at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Johns Hopkins University, University of Minnesota and National University of Singapore.

Among his many honors and awards were election to the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the U-M Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award.

From start to finish, Elmer’s career home was U-M, and the Department of Aerospace Engineering was his paradise on earth. After retiring from U-M in 1994, he continued to be a mentor and research collaborator.

While Elmer was passionate and dedicated in academia, he enjoyed many other interests, including modern architecture and design, being an early bird for roses at the farmers market, music of many genres, photography, cooking complex and simple recipes, canoe trips in northern waters, and being in nature in all seasons (including shoveling snow up north).

He helped architect Robert C. Metcalf design, construct and update two homes — in Ann Arbor and on Crystal Lake near Beulah, Michigan.

He loved long walks, especially along the shores of Lake Michigan and on wooded trails in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He loved trees, flowers, water vistas and beautiful skies. He and his wife, Lois M. Verbrugge, enjoyed traveling to beaches and forests, scuba diving, swimming, hiking in Colorado, watching professional sports and the beauty of Crystal Lake.

Elmer was preceded in death by his beloved twin brother, Ed. He is survived by his wife, Lois; his sister-in-law Margaret G. Gilbert; his nieces and nephew, Anne E. Gilbert, Linda M. Gilbert and Mark E. Gilbert; their children (Dillon and Darby Hakken, Lydia and Meredith Gilbert); his sisters- and brother-in-law, Anne V. Martin, Robert R. Verbrugge and Martha H. Verbrugge; and their children (Christopher Martin, Katrina and Julia Verbrugge).

An event to honor and celebrate Elmer’s life will take place Sept. 14 in Boeing Auditorium, François-Xavier Bagnoud Aerospace Building, 1320 Beal Ave., on U-M’s North Campus, with a morning symposium highlighting his engineering legacy from 10 a.m.-noon, and an afternoon program of personal memories and celebration from 1-2 p.m. The public is welcome to attend both programs.

Details are at bit.ly/2GAd37u, or contact Kimberly Johnson at berlykim@umich.edu. Donations in Elmer’s name can be made to the Crystal Lake & Watershed Association (“for research activities” P.O. Box 89, Beulah, MI 49617; crystallakewatershed.org).

— Submitted by the Department of Aerospace Engineering