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In memoriam: Merwyn C. Gill

Merwyn C. Gill was a pioneer in materials science and composite technology. (Photo/Courtesy of M.C. Gill Corp.)

USC alumnus and trustee Merwyn C. “M.C.” Gill ’37, founder and chairman emeritus of the M.C. Gill Corp., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of reinforced plastics, died on May 30, just two months shy of his 103rd birthday.

Dedicated to making USC a leader in composites research and education — the field he helped define — he endowed the M.C. Gill Chair in Composite Materials in 1986. In 2001, he made a gift to endow the Merwyn C. Gill Foundation Composites Center at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

“M.C. was a true pioneer of the composites industry, and his legacy will live on at USC through the endowed chair and the center he created,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “But he also holds a special place in our collective heart for his leadership, friendship, wit and stalwart dedication to the Trojan Family.”

A 1937 graduate of USC, Gill started his company in a garage in Montebello, Calif., in 1945. His initial focus was postwar consumer items, such as laminated placemats, lampshades and wall coverings. The company’s first product was “Wallfab,” a washable laminated wall covering consisting of a decorative fabric on flexible polyester resin with an opaque paper backing.

After several years, Gill shifted to the emerging field of composite materials for the aircraft industry. Composites — used in everything from fishing rods and wall paneling to bulletproof vests and satellites — are generally made of plastic reinforced with fibers, and are less expensive, lighter, stronger and more heat-resistant than metal or wood. Soon “Wallfab” evolved into “Gillfab,” a puncture-resistant liner for aircraft cargo compartments.

Now based in El Monte, Calif. — on Easy Street, just off of Merwyn C. Gill Way, which was renamed in Gill’s honor in 2002 — the Gill Corp. is the oldest family-owned composites company in the world. According to its website, the corporation has produced and put into service more aircraft cargo liner laminates than any other manufacturer.

Gill headed the company well into his 99th year. Following his retirement in April 2010, about three months before his 100th birthday, he was named chairman emeritus.

A generous benefactor to numerous community organizations in addition to USC, Gill was a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts of America and was instrumental in developing the Composites Merit Badge. In 2006, he and his wife extended their support to Think Tank Thuto, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization benefiting schools in Botswana and other African countries. That same year, he established a scholarship program at the University of Arizona’s College of Engineering.

Over the years at his alma mater, Gill was a member of the presidential level of the USC Associates, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Board of Councilors, Archimedes Circle, Cardinal and Gold, and the USC Norris Auxiliary.

He was elected an honorary trustee of the university in 2004, and took great pride in referring to himself as “one of the oldest, if not the oldest ever, trustee of USC.”

Among other honors, Gill received USC Viterbi’s Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988. In 2004, the USC Alumni Association honored him with an Alumni Merit Award, and in 2011, he received the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Gill is survived by his wife, Hester; children Stephen, Phillip and Debaney; stepchildren Dirk, Annelize and Carine; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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