Michael Seal, the founding director of Western's groundbreaking Vehicle Research Institute and a WWU faculty member for more than 35 years, passed away on Oct. 29 at the age of 84.
In 1969, Seal, who had just earned his doctorate from Texas A&M after completing his master's degree work at Western, was hired to teach drafting at what was then Western Washington State College. Although Western had no engineering technology program at the time, students heard about an urban vehicle design competition and were captivated by it. Their interest in and enthusiasm for the project would set in motion events that would give a new direction to technology research at Western and would eventually lead to the creation of the college’s Vehicle Research Institute (VRI). That was the beginning of a job that Michael often said he would do even if he wasn’t paid. It’s difficult to summarize and adequately portray the enormous contribution and achievement which characterized Michael’s time at Western that spanned three decades of exciting and innovative research in car design and spawned the Viking series of experimental vehicles.
Brad Johnson, dean of Western's College of Science and Engineering, reflected on the loss of Seal and his impact on the university.
“We are saddened at the loss of Dr. Seal; he made so many significant contributions to Western during his time on the faculty, and profoundly impacted several generations of students with high-value educational activities, both on and off campus. He was an important part of the broader Western community,” said Johnson.
Early on, and throughout his career at Western, Michael became known as a teaching professor of the highest order. He could take almost any problem in the pursuit of automotive excellence and subtly entice his students to assume the problems as their own, working ceaselessly toward solutions. Under Michael’s leadership, the VRI continued to gain momentum and recognition as the Viking cars were entered in fuel economy and innovative design competitions, each vehicle sleeker and more sophisticated then the last.
With so much time spent at the VRI, Michael made it a family affair. Eileen worked developing grants to secure funding, and she coordinated all the logistical aspects for the competitions and rallies. As kids, we also felt like we were a part of the VRI family. Many summers were spent trekking across the country and around the globe; Suzie, Lisa, and Cathie have fond memories of time spent with their father at the “Sea to Sea” car rally and another rally travelling down the west coast into Mexico, to name just two. In 1986, the Seal family grew when Michael and Eileen adopted their fourth daughter Georgia, and she too joined in the rally competitions as part of the “GM Sunrayce” when they travelled with the Viking XX solar vehicle from Florida to Michigan. We will forever treasure all this time spent sharing Dad’s passion as an educator and for advancing technologies to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.
While Michael formally retired from Western in 2004, he was never far from the work carried on by the VRI. Still, Eileen seized the opportunity to spend more time with Michael, whisking him away for trips in the RV and even a cruise down the west coast to Baja in their trimaran sailboat. Michael and Eileen were married 46 years before Eileen passed away in 2007.