Maurice Holt, expert in fluid dynamics, dies at 90

| 25 November 2008

Maurice Holt, a University of California, Berkeley, professor emeritus of aeronautical sciences in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a renowned scholar of and educator in fluid dynamics, died of respiratory failure on Nov. 7 at the Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley. He was 90.

Maurice HoltMaurice Holt
In his 48 years on the UC Berkeley faculty, Holt raised computational fluid dynamics to a dominant role in the study of fluid dynamics and served as a consultant for NASA and the Office of Naval Research, among other institutions. His work on supersonic and transonic aerodynamics, blast waves, underwater explosions and supersonic separated flows is cataloged in more than 100 published papers and technical reports.

Holt contributed to nine books; his "Numerical Methods in Fluid Dynamics," published by Springer-Verlag in two editions (1977, 1983), introduced Western scientists to new approaches developed by Soviet scientists. Russian was one of the languages Holt spoke, and he translated several books on fluid dynamics from Russian into English. He also lectured in French.

"After his love for his family, my dad was most passionate about teaching, and he was loyal to Cal and the Cal Bears," said his daughter, Helen Holt. "He attended games until just a few years ago."

Born in 1918 in the village of Wildboarclough in Cheshire, England, to parents who were teachers there, Holt attended Manchester Grammar School and went on to receive his bachelor's degree in 1940, master's degree in 1944 and his Ph.D. in 1948 from the University of Manchester.

After graduation, he got a job as an assistant lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Liverpool. A year later, he joined the University of Sheffield as a lecturer in applied mathematics. In 1952, he moved to the Ministry of Supply in Kent, where he served as the principal scientific officer in charge of theoretical aerodynamics in the Applied Mathematics Division. In 1955, he headed to the United States as a visiting mathematics lecturer at Harvard University and, one year later, joined the applied mathematics faculty at Brown University.

Holt began his UC Berkeley career in 1960 and became professor emeritus in 1988. During his active years, he taught and mentored more than three dozen doctoral students from around the world and kept in touch with most of them after they left campus. Between 1974 and 1977, he was the department's vice chairman of graduate study, handling graduate affairs and strengthening graduate programs.

He was a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; a member of the American Physical Society, the American Mathematical Society and Sigma Xi; and an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He also cofounded the International Conference on Numerical Methods in Fluid Dynamics.

"He was a kind man who had more friends around the world than most can claim," said Stanley Berger, a UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering. "He was a man who knew how to enjoy life."

Holt was an avid traveler. In 1969, he took his wife and daughters to Europe and Russia, where they traveled around in a Volkswagen camper. More than 30 years ago, the Holts, who raised five children, including two sets of twins, bought a 16th century house in a small village in Limeuil, France, and spent summers restoring the home, gardening and stocking their wine cellar.

"My father took us outdoors every weekend, usually to Stinson Beach or Mount Tamalpais," said Helen Holt. "Our family had many happy times camping and enjoying sunny California. Even when it was foggy or rainy, I remember running into the water and then snuggling under blankets on the beach. He was never able to choose a good spot for our picnic until we had walked for what seemed like forever, and if we complained about the weather being freezing, he would say, 'Nonsense! It's brisk.'"

Among Maurice Holt's other joys were playing and listening to music (he played piano and organ, attended performances of the San Francisco Symphony and enjoyed jazz, especially Fats Waller); playing tennis; reading author John le Carré; political humor; reading The New York Times and The New Yorker; and watching "Jeopardy."

In addition to his daughter Helen, Holt is survived by his wife of 66 years, Eileen; sons, Nicholas Holt of Los Angeles and Christopher Holt of Berkeley; daughter, Caroline, of Mountain View, Calif.; sister, Celia, of Berkeley; seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Valerie Holt Cohen, and his sister, Mary Benson.

Plans are pending for a campus memorial to celebrate Holt's life.