Aaron Murdock Hoover died December 30, 2020, surrounded by an extraordinarily large amount of love. An avid everyday cyclist and fitness enthusiast, he was in the best shape of his life when he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM stage IV) in April 2019 at age 41. Aaron survived this aggressive brain cancer for 20 months with grit and grace.
In his dream job as a professor of mechanical engineering at Olin College outside Boston, Aaron helped refine the critical thinking skills — and fashion senses — of a generation of young engineers. He loved his work, finding deep satisfaction in the process of education as much as the product. A sign in his lab bore these characteristic instructions to students:
“1. Be excellent to each other. 2. Take the reins. 3. Kick ass. 4. Deliver value. 5. Have fun.”
Aaron was a builder and a maker, from the phone circuit he rewired at age six to the bikes he built in college to his recent explorations in high-end woodworking. In his professional life, he sought to understand how the principles underlying biological systems can yield insights that improve engineered systems. His career began with bio-inspired robotic locomotion and evolved to engage the nature of learning itself. Aaron read widely, spoke several languages and maintained a critical focus on the human side of engineering and design, teaching Olin’s foundational Principles of Engineering course every year. He was particularly interested in the intersections of creativity, craft, and design. He is remembered by his colleagues for so many things, including his generosity, teamwork and peer mentorship.
Aaron’s friends called him “Hoov.” He had an eye for beauty, an irreverent wit, and a charming humility rare in someone so accomplished. He loved music, art and modern design. His excellent sense of humor was matched only by his utter seriousness about the things that mattered: his family, meaningful work, and the proper method, tools and materials to grind and brew coffee.
Aaron was raised in Kansas City and Lake Lotawana, Missouri. His mother remembers a physically active daredevil of a child, with multiple scars to show for it. His sister remembers a sometimes-willing adventure buddy with an epic giggle. He attended Operation Discovery, Switzer, Border Star, and Mason elementary schools, going on to get a scholarship to and graduate with honors from Pembroke Hill, followed by Stanford University and a PhD at UC Berkeley.
Aaron met his life partner and wife, Robin, in San Francisco in the year 2000, when he was briefly a cool guy who rode a motorcycle and played bass in a band. Together they finished their twenties, got their doctorates, traveled the world, made each other laugh, made a home, and in 2013 had a son. Aaron was a dedicated parent who made “Little R” a hot breakfast every morning and spread “sleeping dust” on him every night. Little R has inherited his father’s intelligence, charisma, and keen attention to detail. The family spent time during the summers of 2018 and 2019 at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine, nurturing his love of craftsmanship and working with his hands.
When he was diagnosed with GBM, Aaron dove into learning everything he could about the disease and its treatment. He blogged his experiences at www.amhoov.org, and was an active participant in Brain Tumor Social Media (#btsm) on his Twitter account @amhoov. He made good friends there, and this remarkable community brought him great comfort as brain cancer took more from him.
He was growing in new directions informed by his diagnosis when he passed away peacefully on December 30, leaving a lanky Aaron-shaped hole in the lives of his wife Robin, his son Little R, his mother Kathy, his sister Melissa, a large extended Murdock family, and hundreds of friends, colleagues and current and former students.
A Boston-area “go-by” memorial is planned for Sunday, January 17, 2021 [NOTE THIS IS UPDATED FROM ORIGINAL DATE]; meet in the Star Market parking lot at 75 Spring Street, West Roxbury at 11:45am for a noon departure. Bicycles are enthusiastically encouraged, but all modes of transportation are welcome. In-person celebrations of life will be planned for summer 2021 in Kansas City and California after pandemic travel restrictions are eased. Aaron’s family requests that you share your memories, photos, and videos at www.amhoov.org. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Little R’s college fund https://go.fidelity.com/pvtcs, or to the Aaron Hoover Memorial Fund to benefit women of color engineers at Olin College http://www.olin.edu/give [Select Designation: “Aaron Hoover Memorial Fund”].
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