Park Reilly, a long-time Waterloo chemical engineering professor, died in early May, just 12 days shy of turning 100.

Reilly, who joined the University of Waterloo in 1967, was a respected scholar engaged in research and teaching on the application of statistics in engineering.

He held cross appointments in engineering's management sciences department and math's statistics and actuarial sciences department.

Reilly came to Waterloo after a 20-year career in the chemical industry. His industrial experience provided him with an extensive range of practical examples and illustrations of his course materials.

In 1986, he was the recipient of the University’s Distinguished Teacher Award.  The letters of support for the honour from his undergraduate, graduate and former students and faculty colleagues demonstrated that his appeal as a teacher went far beyond credibility and expertise.

He was described as “a dedicated, enthusiastic, and immensely effective teacher who spares no effort to help his students in their learning.”

One student wrote that his greatest asset in the classroom “was his willingness and desire to work with the students, rather than just present the information and leave it at that.”

Park Reilly with Pearl Sullivan, former dean of Waterloo Engineering

    Park Reilly with Pearl Suillivan, former dean of Waterloo Engineering. 

Reilly and his wife Veva established the Chemical Engineering Medal, also known as the Park Reilly Medal, for doctoral graduates. The medal recognizes “skill in research as measured by analysis of an engineering problem, planning an efficient solution of the problem and achieving the solution with superior insight into the science and/or engineering involved.”

An annual popular chemical engineering event named for the Reillys is the Park and Veva Reilly Distinguished Seminar held in Engineering 6.

Maintained ties after retirement

Reilly formally retired in 1988, but continued teaching and consulting with industry.  He took on graduate students well into his 90s.

Last year, Reilly attended the Faculty's Reunion weekend in June. Peter Golem, a Waterloo Engineering alumnus, caught upPark and Veva Reilly attend 2019 engineering reunion with his former professor he hadn’t seen in 50 years.

“My visit with Park gave me the chance to reflect upon the many ways in which our lives had intersected or shared similar themes over the past five decades,” says Golem in an article he wrote for the University. “I'm grateful that we were able to reconnect over these shared experiences.”

Park and Veva Reilly at the 2019 Waterloo Engineering Reunion.

On Valentine’s Day of this year, Reilly and his wife were featured in an article celebrating six long-time couples married for a half-century and longer living at Luther Village on the Park in Waterloo.

Reilly, who would have celebrated 75 years of marriage with Veva this July, told The Record reporter that his advice for a long-lasting relationship was to “simply keep loving each other forever.”

The couple had four sons.

Good ending to a 50-year friendship

Close friend Gerry Mueller, a Waterloo chemical engineering alumnus and former faculty member, recalls being asked difficult questions by Reilly about the research presentation he gave as part of his interview for a faculty position during the spring of 1971.

After Mueller joined the Faculty, Reilly told him he had opposed his hiring. His reasoning was that he felt employing an alumnus of the department would be considered “inbreeding.”

“Then he told me that none of that would prevent him from fully supporting me as a colleague,” says Mueller. “It was at that moment I decided that a man of such integrity would be worth having as a friend.”

Years later, Mueller decided to leave the department to enrol in seminary studies and explore ordination.

“He told me it was about time and that he had wondered when I would see what he had seen for some time,” says Mueller.

After Mueller was ordained as an Anglican priest, he continued his friendship with Reilly, who insisted on calling his former colleague by his new title.

“We had, of course, been on a first-name basis, but now he insisted on calling me ‘Father Gerry,’ which from a man 22 years my senior felt ridiculous. He, on the other hand, insisted that as a good Anglican, he had to recognize my ecclesiastical status,” Mueller says. “We sawed it off and whenever we met thereafter he would greet me as ‘Father’ or ‘Your Reverence' and I would refer to him as ‘Professor’ or ‘Doctor.' And then it would be back to Park and Gerry.”

The last time Mueller saw Reilly was in February of this year. Although Mueller says his friend was somewhat confused about his surroundings, his professional mind was still sharp. 

“I was able to tell him a somewhat ‘in’ joke about Bayesian statistics, his speciality, which he fully understood,” said Mueller. “And at the end of our visit he asked for and I gave him my blessing. It was a good ending to a 50-year friendship.”

A celebration of Reilly's life will be held sometime in the future.