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Maxwell G. Lay '64G: Taking Lehigh down under

Maxwell G. Lay '64G

Maxwell G. Lay '64G, has earned the right to add A.M. after his name. The abbreviation stands for a national honor system in his native Australia called the Order of Australia, which is a great honor in the land down under. Lay's citation for the award reads, "for service to engineering, particularly through leadership in the delivery of quality road infrastructure and the development of new contract management processes, and as an educator and historian."

Lay is a fourth generation Australian. He earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees from his hometown university in Melbourne. When asked what drew him to the United States and particularly to Lehigh for his Ph.D., Lay says, "At the time, Fritz Lab in the Department of Civil Engineering had a world-renowned research group working on new methods to design steel structures. It involved both theory and testing and was closely linked to the steel industry. I had read some of their published work and it seemed closely aligned to what I wanted to do. The only other similar research group in the world was at Cambridge, England, and I felt I had more to learn in the U.S.A."

It turned out he made the right decision, because Lay's career has thrived in part because of his years at Lehigh. "I had come from a background where I was a high IQ kid in a group where sporting prowess determined social status. But Fritz Lab was at the peak of its productivity, and there I was no longer an outsider but part of a community of scholars who could and did challenge me intellectually. Ideas were always bouncing around and the big task was to hang on to enough to record and use."

Professors at Lehigh also left a lasting impression on Lay's work. "I admired Lynn Beedle's organizational ability and the intellectual persistence of people like Alex Ostapenko. However, it was Ted Galambos who had the most incredible influence on me. Ted showed me, by example, how the toughest problems could be solved by combining intellectual rigor, careful experimentation, and a Hungarian belief in the supreme usefulness of mathematics. He was a model Ph.D. supervisor, and I was fortunate to be one of his students."

Outside the classroom, Lay took other experiences and memories of Lehigh with him. "One of the most wonderful things about Lehigh was the continual immersion in the music of Bach and Beethoven. I still remember the choirs and organ recitals, particularly in Packer Church next to Fritz Lab."

Linderman Library also brought out the historian in Lay. He recently published a book titled Melbourne Miles on the history of roads in his hometown. "I am currently helping to organize a major conference on assessing the heritage value of roads, particularly in the context of the World Heritage process run by the International Council on Monuments and Sites," he says.

--Mary S. Mesaros

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Fall 2005

Posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2005

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