By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun
5:14 PM EST, December 28, 2011
William Magruder Waters, a retired Johns Hopkins and Navy electrical engineer and inventor who built his own car and held patents related to radar imaging, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 17 at Renaissance Gardens at Oak Crest Village. He was 86.
The son of Methodist missionaries, he was born in Kobe, Japan. He came to the U.S. when his father accepted a ministerial assignment in Roanoke, Va. He later lived in Gambrills, Harmans and Goldsboro, and was a 1943 graduate of Beall High School in Frostburg.
As a 12-year-old living in Mount Savage, he tinkered with electronics. "One night after dinner, his father tuned his radio to catch up on the world news. But what he heard was local news about their tiny town. Just as his amazement grew that anyone might be interested in his piece of the middle of nowhere, he recognized the voice. It was young Billy Waters upstairs at his desk, broadcasting from a homemade transmitter," said his son, William Waters of Norrisville.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Mr. Waters enlisted in the Army and studied radar at the Johns Hopkins University. Assigned to Europe, he was an Army Signal Corps radio specialist. He landed several days after the Normandy invasion and was reassigned to an Army jazz band, where he played the trombone.
"He was a natural musician," his son said. "He had taught himself to play the piano, and he grew up singing in his father's church choirs."
After the war, he moved to Baltimore when his father was assigned to Highland Methodist Church. At a church function, he met his future wife, Nancy McKinney, who was a recent graduate of the Church Home and Hospital Nursing School.
He worked in radio and was the WCAO transmitting tower technician while he earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University.
"He was a brilliant scientist whose many patents in radar technology helped us see what would otherwise be invisible in the heavens," his son said. "He performed research and pursued his inventions for the Hopkins Radiation Laboratory, Bendix and the Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory."
Mr. Waters lived in Parkville for many years and later settled in Millersville to be closer to his work at the Naval Research Laboratory in Anacostia, Va. He retired initially at age 77 but kept working in his lab until his early 80s. He understood that electric vehicles were on the horizon, and he bought an early Honda Insight, which he drove to his lab, his son said.
"His basement was home to his piano and to an electric car he designed and built using the body and frame of an old Honda Civic, which he equipped with electric golf cart motors and a regenerative braking system," his son said. "When his health began to fail with cardiomyopathy, he presented his cardiologist and internist with the printout of the EKG machine he built in his own shop."
Mr. Waters published numerous professional papers on radar imaging. He often flew his own plane to scientific conferences. His son said he "worked in pure science. He was not a businessman."
After dinner he went to his basement and played songs such as "Misty," "Moonlight in Vermont," and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" on his piano. He tuned the instrument with an electronic device he designed and built. He also arranged music for a family band. He played "Alexander's Ragtime Band," with his wife as vocalist, a daughter assisting on piano and son on the trumpet.
Mr. Waters bought a bayside cottage in Dewey Beach, Del., where he spent his weekends. He surf-fished and puttered around Rehoboth Bay in a small boat. He also took his family on cross-country trips in a red 1957 Oldsmobile.
"He looked for the small-town local joints to have lunch and dinner," his son said. "He enjoyed meeting and talking with people."
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 6 at Oak Crest Village Chapel, 8800 Walther Blvd.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 64 years; a daughter, Susan Waters-Eller of Baltimore; and two grandchildren.
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