The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 35.0°F | Fair

Donald J. Atwood '48

Donald J. Atwood '48, a member of the MIT Corporation, former Deputy Secretary of Defense, and a former General Motors executive, died April 24 at the age of 69.

Atwood, who lived in Franklin, Mich., died following surgery for a bleeding ulcer, a family member said.

Atwood started his second 5-year term on the Corporation last July. He had also been a Corporation member from 1984 to 1989, resigning a few months before the end of his term when President George Bush named him to the Defense Department post. He returned to private life in the spring of 1993.

Atwood served in the U.S. Army during World War II, from 1943 to 1946. He then came to MIT and received his SB in electrical engineering in 1948 and his SM in 1950.

Atwood joined the technical staff of the Instrumentation Laboratory and participated in the MIT Inertial Guidance Development Program. In 1952 he became treasurer and chief engineer of the Dynatrol Corporation and remained with the company until 1959, when it was acquired by General Motors.

At General Motors, Atwood served in several management positions, and in 1984 he was appointed to the board of directors and named executive vice president. He was elected vice chairman of the board and served in that position until going to the Defense Department.

Defense Secretary William J. Perry paid tribute to Atwood, noting that he had served as deputy during a period of dramatic change.

"His tenure saw the collapse of Soviet communism and the triumph of liberty in Eastern Europe, the victory of U.S. and allied forces in Desert Storm, and the first years of the downsizing of America's defense establishment," Perry said in a statement.

"In tackling the tough tasks facing him, Don impressed everyone with his patience, good humor, and commitment to maintaining a strong, ready U.S. military," Perry said.

Atwood was also active in many civic and industry-related organizations. He was a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the National Academy of Engineering and the Society of Automotive Engineers. He was a member of the board of directors of the Draper Laboratory.

His activities at the Institute included membership on the Development Committee from 1980 to 1989, the mathematics visiting committee from 1984 to 1989, and the electrical engineering visiting committee from 1986 to 1989. He received the Corporate Leadership Award in 1987 and the Bronze Beaver award in 1988.

Atwood is survived by his wife, Susan (Harian) Atwood of Franklin; a daughter, Susan Lavoie of Ortonville, Mich.; a son, Jesse Atwood of Washington, D.C.; and two grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held April 29 at 11 a.m. in the First Congregational Church in Haverhill, Atwood's hometown. Burial will be in Walnut Cemetery, Haverhill. A memorial service will be held in Franklin, Mich., at the Community Church May 2 at 2 p.m.