Dr. Waldo “Mac” Libbey ’44, who taught electrical engineering at the University of Maine for 47 years, and was known as a “Renaissance Man” for his accomplishments in both the arts and the sciences, has provided a generous gift to create a professorship in his name.
Working with Dean of the College of Engineering Dana Humphrey and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Chair Mohamad Musavi, Libbey has designated resources through his estate that will be used to attract and retain outstanding faculty, help the university build upon its quality academic and research programs, and ensure a thriving intellectual community.
The Waldo “Mac” Libbey ’44 Professorship in Electrical and Computer Engineering will be established in the University of Maine Foundation.
An acoustics expert who applied his research to hearing conservation and noise control, Libbey, 86, said he wanted to “leave something to the university that would keep my name on in perpetuity.
“I taught here for nearly 50 years — it was my life’s work.”
Libbey earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from UMaine in December, 1943, and, just ten days later, was made a faculty member in the Department of Electrical Engineering to teach students in the Army Specialized Training Program. In 1948, Professor Walter Creamer asked him to take over the electro-acoustics course which Creamer had started in 1919. The course, which was the first in the country, applied engineering principles to the science of acoustics to improve the design and construction of devices like microphones, loudspeakers and telephones.
Soon Libbey was teaching other courses in noise control and environmental acoustics. During his tenure at UMaine, he started 14 new courses — mostly graduate level — including Elements of Communication which examined hearing and energy levels in speech and music. He earned his master’s degree in engineering from MIT in 1951 and his Ph.D. from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1969, each time taking only one semester off from his teaching duties and earning the rest of the credit during summer breaks.
“I kept right on going – that’s how the 47 years came about.”
It wasn’t long before Libbey had made a name for himself as an acoustic consultant and legal witness. In the 1970’s and 1980’s he teamed with the Hearing Conservation and Noise Control group based in Philadelphia to teach noise control and acoustics to medical professionals. Industries in Maine and elsewhere began looking to him to help conduct hearing conservation programs so they could comply with new standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He was invited to lecture with Layman Miller of Bolt Beranek and Newman, a Cambridge, Mass., company that pioneered the development of computer models of roadway and aircraft noise and the design of noise barriers near highways.
Musavi pointed out that with his nearly 50 years of teaching plus the time he spent as an undergraduate, Libbey represents close to one half of the ECE Department’s 115-year history.
“He is continuing his legacy with this professorship,” Musavi said.
Science isn’t Libbey’s only interest. He loves to sing, dance, and act, and he plays both the piano and the trumpet. In the 1950’s he helped found the community theatre called the Bangor Savoyards and took leading roles in 19 musical comedy productions. In 1973 he received the Francis R. Stanley award for acting. Known for his gorgeous tenor, he sang with the choir at the Old South Church in Boston, as well as with the choir at Bangor’s Hammond Street Church where he also served as volunteer choir director for eight years. He was a member of the Bangor Male Chorus, the Orono Choral Society, and the Bangor Community Chorus, as well as the Cecelia Society of Boston under the direction of Arthur Fiedler, long time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. He studied briefly with Eileen Farrell, the famous American opera and concert singer soprano.
A model for lifelong learning, Libbey over the years took up ballroom dancing, painting, Chinese, figure skating and swimming, immersing himself in each new interest, and winning numerous awards for his endeavors.
Described as one of the best teachers in the department, Libbey in 1980 was awarded the first Ashley Campbell Award which each year recognizes a faculty member in the College of Engineering for outstanding teaching.
Using his artistic background, Libbey would bring a special flair to his classroom instruction, according to former colleagues.
“He raised the bar for the rest of us,” said Professor John Field. “His dedication to students, his preparation for lectures, the breadth of what he taught – all were impeccable. He’s done so many things so well – everything from the arts to the sciences. He’s a true Renaissance Man.”
Holding his acoustics class in Hauck Auditorium, Libbey would illustrate the “dead” spots by doing a tap dance, Professor Ned Sheppard recalled. For his course on human engineering, he’d use colored chalk to make elaborate drawings of the thorax, or voice box, Professor Fred Irons said.
“They were so beautiful and artistic and clever and clear that no one wanted to erase them.”
Said Libbey, “My upbringing at the University of Maine made me a great teacher. All my teachers were very professional, knowledgeable, and patient. They made their subject interesting. These were all things I tried to do myself.”
Carroll Lee ’71, former Bangor Hydro president and chief operating officer, was in Libbey’s acoustical engineering and lighting engineering classes. He remembered the professor vividly.
“He took great pride in his teaching and was very effective in catching students’ interest. And he was very likeable and easy to talk to. For us young engineers it was really valuable to have a professor who was approachable. He was always noticeable – he had a mustache and wore wear bright colored suit jackets. He stood apart from the average professor.”
Libbey was graduate thesis advisor for Lee Prager, an engineer with Bose in Massachusetts who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UMaine in the 1970’s. Prager still recalls the teacher’s amazing knack for boiling down complicated acoustical theories.
“He was one of my best professors. He taught in such a way that you really got it.”
Although he didn’t use his acoustics background until much later in his career when he joined Bose, Prager said the foundation Libbey gave him years before put him in good stead.
“Thanks to the wonderful background I got from him in acoustics, I was able to make the most of a great career opportunity at Bose.”
Image Description: L-r: Professor Mohamad Musavi, chair of Electric and Computer Engineering; Dr. Waldo "Mac" Libbey '44; and Dana Humphrey, Dean of the College of Engineering