College mourns H. Gilbert Harlow, professor of civil engineering emeritus

Publication Date

The College mourns the loss of H. Gilbert Harlow, professor of civil engineering emeritus, who taught from 1940 to 1984 and was a key advocate for maintaining and enhancing the campus landscape. He died Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, at the Capstone Center in Amsterdam, N.Y. He was 100.

“Gil” earned an engineering degree from Tufts University, and his master's in civil engineering from Harvard University.

He married Jeannette Martin in 1940, the same year they moved to Schenectady to begin his career at Union, where he introduced soil mechanics and foundations to the curriculum. He missed only five days due to illness.

Among the many aspects of his College service, he was chair of Civil Engineering and director of the Evening Division. He served as president of the Mohawk-Hudson section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

As chair of the Faculty Committee on Buildings and Grounds, he helped lead ambitious efforts to maintain and improve the campus landscape. With his longtime friend and colleague, the late Prof. William Huntley, he was responsible for planting trees across campus after many were lost to Dutch elm disease. He was also instrumental in many of the plantings in Jackson’s Garden.

With Huntley and the late Jack Litynski, a landscape architect, he had created something of an arboretum on campus. By 1985, they had planted more than 1,300 major shade trees, 650 flowering trees and 5,000 shrubs and smaller trees.

In 1977, they published The Union College Grounds: A Guide to Trees, Shrubs and Birds, a leaflet which listed the sites of some 200 species of trees and shrubs.

Prof. Harlow was world renowned for his hybridizing of tuberous begonias. They were on display at his commercial greenhouse in Pattersonville, at his home in the Stockade, and in his campus office. He loaned many of the flowers for weddings and parties.

An avid Union football fan, he was for years in charge of filming home and away games.

In 1941, the Harlows bought the Governor Yates home in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood and turned it into the University Club, where 36 General Electric engineers lived while on test programs with G.E. His family of five children also lived there. In the large terraced yard, a concrete swimming pool brought much pleasure to the families who had memberships. Caretaking of the four terraces of flowers and large swimming pool became his summer job. His wife, Jeannette, served as life guard.

The H. Gilbert Harlow Garden Club, formed in his honor in the early 60s, is still thriving today. The group planted a dogwood tree in his honor in Jackson's Garden where the Thyme Garden, with a sundial from Elizabeth McMath, is dedicated to him.

Last spring, on his 100th birthday, while celebrating with friends and family, he received a proclamation from the mayor of Schenectady declaring April 27 as H. Gilbert Harlow Day.

His wife, Jeannette, passed away in 1992. Survivors include his children, Priscilla Gocha, Sally Harlow, Susan Harlow Northrup, Bradford Harlow and Heidi Van Deusen. He was predeceased by his companion of 22 years, Elizabeth McMath.

A memorial service will be Saturday, Nov. 29, at 11:30 a.m. at the First Reformed Church, 8 North Church St., Schenectady.

Memorial contributions may be made to Capstone Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, 302 Swart Hill Rd., Amsterdam, N.Y. 12010 or to the First Reformed Church, Schenectady, N.Y. 12305.