Obituary of Leslie Cross
A brilliant scientist, a true gentleman, a sweet, funny, generous friend, and a kind, supportive father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Penn State Evan Pugh Professor Dr. Leslie Eric Cross left this world on Thursday, December 29, 2016 at the age of 93.
Eric was born in Morley, West Yorkshire, England, on August 14, 1923, the younger son of Charles and Alice (Plant) Cross. Preceded in death by his parents, brother Arthur (1980), wife Lucilla (2011), and son Peter (2004), Eric is survived by his 5 children: son Matthew Cross and his wife, Holly, of Cypress, Texas; son Daniel Cross and his wife, Catherine, of Alexandria, Virginia; daughter Rebecca Cross, of State College, Pennsylvania; daughter Rachel (Cross) Jennings of Manassas, Virginia; and daughter Elizabeth Cross, of Topanga, California; also survived by Peter’s wife Pamela of York, PA as well as his 6 grandchildren: Kyle Cross, Kevin Cross, Steven Cross, Philip Cross, Kaycee Jennings and Christopher Eutsler; and 4 great-grandchildren.
Dr. Cross received his B.S. and Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Leeds (England) in 1952. Eric was best known for his groundbreaking work as a scientist, researcher, lecturer and mentor. Respected by colleagues worldwide, his list of memberships, accomplishments, publications and awards are too lengthy to be included here but a few of the highlights include: the University Scholars Medal for Science and Engineering (Penn State University, 1982), an Honorary Doctorate from Xian Jiaotong University (1985), the IEEE-UFFC Achievement Award (1996) and SPIE Smart Structure Materials Lifetime Award (2005), and, most especially, the Von Hippel Award (2010), the highest honor given by the Materials Research Society. However, those who knew him best will remember his unique combination of an ever-curious scientific mind and a modest, practical nature. He was most satisfied when his work had beneficial applications, whether it was his Navy research in ultrasonic transducers later being used in medical ultrasounds, or the fixing of a "fuzzy" Hubble telescope through his work with actuators.
Eric loved many things about his work, but equally important was his love for his wife of 61 years, Lucilla (Cilla). After meeting on a bus trip, they were married on April 1, 1950. Cilla was Eric's perfect partner, balancing his quiet strength with an outgoing personality that was always the life of the party. That he loved her completely was clear to all who knew them — she was his true equal, his balance, his guiding light. It was only with her passing that Eric slowed his commitments to work, preferring to spend time with family and friends.
Arriving at Penn State in 1961 as his field began to rapidly expand, Eric was quick to create connections across disciplines and fields. Through his lifelong friendship with Dr. Robert Newnham, Eric helped to build a culture of cooperation and collegiality that went far in establishing the Materials Research Laboratory as a pre-eminent, interdisciplinary research facility. His office door was always open to anyone, faculty, graduate students and staff; whether to discuss groundbreaking new ideas or to chat about their family matters. This same openness extended to his home: He and Cilla were always welcoming to everyone, and many a future prominent scientist began their graduate student career at Penn State by spending time in the Cross family household. Eric's greatest feeling of accomplishment came from watching his graduate students blossom from these humble beginnings and then succeed on a national and international scale.
Through his working years, Eric always presented himself professionally as the consummate scientist, but those who knew him well equally loved his less formal side. He loved a good joke almost as much as a well-written thesis. He was infamous within the family for his deliberate spoonerisms: "Melt-nut-butter-pee-aways" (instead of Peanut Butter Meltaways), and "Kentidily F***ed Chicken (for Kentucky Fried Chicken) were two of his most enduring and well-used examples. He enjoyed deflating his professional image by wearing socks with sandals throughout the year, and he had a true love for lost causes, as evidenced by an endless succession of clunker vehicles that spent as much time in the shop as they did on the road. And his skills were extended with incredible diversity: He could carve a turkey like a surgeon; he could sketch trains, planes and ships with life-like detail; he could design and build almost anything, from a simple fence to a giant play-fort complete with intercom and electricity; and his Christmas decorations and light displays were the stuff of legend in his neighborhood of College Heights.
Above all, Eric Cross considered himself a lucky person. He preferred to not dwell on regrets but instead always looked forward to what was possible with the heart of a true optimist. And while everyone will miss his hand-clasps of joy and his perfectly British "Jolly Good!", it will be that profound positivity that will be missed most of all.
A memorial service will be at 12 p.m., on Saturday, April 1, 2017 in the Frizell Room at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, Eisenhower Chapel, University Park.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Alzheimer's Association in the memory of Dr. Eric Cross.
Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be made at www.kochfuneralhome.com or visit us on Facebook.
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