Richard Shevell, Stanford professor, Peninsula Jewish leader, dies at 79

Richard Shevell, a Stanford aeronautics professor and veteran of numerous Jewish community agency boards, died April 21 of lymphoma at his Atherton home.

He was 79.

At the time of his death, Shevell was on the board of the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. He had also played a leadership role in the south Peninsula region of the Jewish Community Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Hillel Foundation at Stanford University Hillel.

"He was a brilliant individual," said Yitzhak Santis, director of the JCRC south Peninsula region, whose board Shevell chaired for two years. "He could size up a situation quickly and come up with a real common-sense solution."

Not surprisingly, Shevell used aviation metaphors to illustrate many of his ideas, Santis said.

"And he had a pun for every situation — usually a bad one," Santis added. "He kept them coming non-stop. He was a very sweet, gracious man."

Shevell spearheaded development of the DC-10 airplane as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft in the 1960s. Nearly 450 of the planes left the ground before manufacture ceased in 1989.

He joined the Stanford University faculty in 1970. He authored a textbook, "Fundamentals of Flight," that is still in use at Stanford and at other universities. Students praised his down-to-earth humor and accessibility.

He divided his time between academia and investigative work, which he did with the Department of Transportation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

But in addition to "being brilliant in the professional area, he was very, very dedicated to the Jewish Community Center," said Sanford Blovad, JCC director. "He treated the employees with a lot of dignity. And, of course, he was very, very funny."

A Manhattan native, Shevell attended Columbia University. He earned graduate degrees in aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology, where he met his future wife, Lorraine King, of Southern California.

Lorraine King Shevell is president of the JCC. The couple had been married for 53 years, Blovad said.

In addition to his wife, Shevell is survived by a son, Steven Shevell of Chicago, daughters Jeanne Shevell of Redwood City and Diane Shevell of New Jersey, and two granddaughters.

A memorial service was held April 28 at the Jennings Pavilion of Holbrook-Palmer Park in Atherton.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.