Charles A. Harper, a chemical engineer who worked on NASA programs, dies

Charles A. Harper, a chemical engineer who worked on projects for NASA, died from complications of pneumonia Feb. 26 at Brightview Mays Chapel Ridge retirement community.

He was 91.


Mr. Harper was born the first of four children in Ridgeley, W.Va., just over the Maryland border. The family moved to Allegany County when Harper was in high school. His father, Charles C. Harper, was a coal miner and farmer and his mother, Edith Higgs Harper, was a housewife.

Mr. Harper graduated from J. Glenn Beall High School in Frostburg in 1945. He attended the Johns Hopkins University on a senatorial scholarship. He was the first in his family to graduate from college.


“He was always really good in school and he liked mathematics,” said his daughter, Fay Koch. “He instilled in me a love of learning. That is why I am back in school pursuing a master’s degree today.”

After earning a degree in chemical engineering, Mr. Harper landed a job in the research libratory of Glidden Chemical Company in Baltimore in 1949.

He spent a year and a half at the chemical company, then joined the Army, serving two years with the occupation forces in Germany just after World War II. He married his first wife, Margorie Anne Shaffar, right before he deployed. They later divorced.

After his military stint, Mr. Harper got a job at Westinghouse Electric Corp. at Point Breeze working with plastics material. He began as a senior engineer and worked his way up to department manager and project manager. He contributed to important defense aircraft such as the Airborne Warning and Control System, the F-4 Phantom and the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Mr. Harper also worked on NASA programs, including radar for the Gemini space program and the color television camera for the Apollo moon missions. He conducted research for the Air Force Materials Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

"Charlie was always well received there, as he completed the assigned items in the Westinghouse research contracts in great detail and timely manner," said Bob Barnes, a retired Westinghouse executive.

Mr. Harper was the co-founder and first president of the International Electronics Packaging Society. He led a merger of that organization with another to create the International Microelectronics and Packaging Society, which today has about 30,000 members.

As Mr. Harper became a recognized leader in the field of electronic packaging, he began to lecture at Westinghouse's in-house evening college. His lecturing expanded to Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. Both universities soon offered courses and, eventually, a curriculum in the field of electronic packaging.


Mr. Harper was also an accomplished author. McGraw-Hill published many of his books, including the "Handbook of Electronic Packaging." He also became a series editor for the publishing company.

His extensive personal library was donated to the University of Maryland, which named the conference room holding his collection in his honor.

When he wasn’t writing his own books, he was an avid reader of other authors. He especially liked history books.

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In 1985, Mr. Harper and a business partner started a company in which they offered seminars around the world. He gave lectures on electronic packaging throughout Europe, Asia and North America. His second wife, Mary Lou, whom he married in 1972, traveled with him acting as his administrative assistant.

Mr. Harper was an active supporter of the National Electronics Museum in Linthicum and a member of the Hopkins Club, where he and his wife liked to entertain. He was a co-founder of the Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church in Crofton.

His family said he was a good-natured man who liked to tell jokes and have large family gatherings. He was known to start up conversations with strangers.


“He was truly the kind of man we were all inspired to emulate,” said his stepdaughter, Kathleen Shaver. “He was selfless, gentle, humbling and nurturing."

Mr. Harper is survived by two children: his daughter, Mrs. Koch of Fredericksburg, Va., and a son, Stuart Harper of Solomons Island. A third child, Lisa Rodriquez, is deceased. He also had three stepchildren: Mrs. Shaver of Phoenix; Bill Berger of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; and Gary Berger of Hunt Valley. A fourth stepchild, Janeen Borders, is deceased.

He is also survived by his sisters Ann Robinette of Roanoke, Va., and Carol Fennell of Leesburg, Fla.; and 15 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home Inc. in Towson. Visitation will be held before the service.