Remembering Professor Emeritus John W. Rutter (1925–2013)

Alumna Dr Mary Ruggiero shares her fondest memories and photos of the late Professor Emeritus John W. Rutter


Photo: Professor Emeritus John W. Rutter

July 2, 2013

Professor Emeritus John William Rutter (EngPhys 4T9, MMS PhD 5T2) passed away peacefully at home on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at the age of 88. A service was held for family and friends on Monday, June 24 at St. Stephen’s-on-the-Hill in Mississauga, Ontario.

Dr. Rutter graduated from U of T Engineering Physics (now Engineering Science) in 1949 and subsequently completed his PhD in Metallurgical Engineering (now Materials Science & Engineering) in 1952 under the supervision of the late Professor Bruce Chalmers.

After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at U of T in 1956, Dr. Rutter accepted a research and development position at General Electric in Schenectady, New York, until he returned to the University of Toronto in 1967 as a professor in the Department of Metallurgy & Materials Science. He retired in 1990 and took on the title of “Professor Emeritus” but continued to conduct research and author papers until recently.

In his career, Professor Rutter made significant contributions to the understanding of solidification microstructures and was a renowned expert in lead-free eutectic soldering alloys. Dr. Rutter mentored numerous students in his tenure at U of T, published volumes of research papers, and left long-lasting memories among those he mentored and collaborated with.

Below is a personal recollection of the late professor from one of his former graduate students, alumna Dr. Mary Ruggiero (EngSci 7T7, MMS MASc 7T9, PhD 8T3).

I will always remember Professor John Rutter for his selfless, caring nature, his humanity and his dedication to his students – he formed long-lasting attachments with all of his students. I was fortunate and privileged to be one these students, and over time, his mentorship turned into friendship.

Professor Rutter was always generous with his time and expertise. Even after completing my graduate studies and working in industrial R&D, I often called on him to discuss technical issues and together we published a number of papers on solidification of eutectic solder alloys. His knowledge of ternary phase diagrams and interpretation of eutectic microstructures was extensive and extraordinary. While I never knew him to be openly critical of other researchers, one of his pet peeves was misinterpretation of solidification of microstructures because the researcher had failed to look up phase diagrams published before the 1970s.


Photo: Dr. John W. Rutter working in research and development at General Electric (GE), 1956–1967

An outstanding educator, Professor Rutter also had a dry sense of humor. Every year at the beginning of the term he would warn students to be careful not to hurt themselves if they fell asleep and fell out of their desks – this was apparently not an exaggerated concern since he was soft spoken and in a dim lecture hall with the soft hum of the overhead projector, it was not uncommon for students to actually nod off during his lectures. He would also produce copious pages of lecture notes – each student would receive copies of all his overhead slides for each lecture. Unfortunately, for some students, this provided a false sense of security and at the end of the term they would have to review a 3-inch stack of lecture notes to prepare for the final exam!

I also have distinct memories of his office: his desk was always piled high with notes and publications with only a paper-sized space to do write. Miraculously, the pile was chronological and he could locate any document!

Professor Rutter had a number of non-academic interests including photography, jazz music and cooking – he was renowned for his home-made cookies! He was also interested in model railroading and had an O gauge model railway which occupied a large room in the 3rd floor of his home. But more than anything, he was passionate about his research and it would be difficult to have a conversation with him that did not include a detailed discussion on his latest investigation.


Photo: Professor John W. Rutter with then PhD candidate Mary Ruggiero at the 1979 Canadian Metal Physics Conference in Kingston, Ontario

Once he retired, instead of slowing down he actually accelerated his research work on eutectic alloys, becoming an expert in no-lead eutectic solders and co-publishing many papers. He was very practical and hands-on, performing many of his own experiments, doing his own metallography and microstructural analysis. He could often be seen in the department in his white lab coat going from his office to the metallography lab. When he started to have troubles with his knees and mobility became an issue, he was happy to receive my second-hand polishing wheel and metallograph so that he could do the work in his own office.

And until a year-and-a-half ago – despite failing health – he was at his office almost every day doing his research and editing papers for publication. He was noted for his wonderful editorial skills and could be counted on to correct every inaccuracy in wording and all grammatical errors.

It was a privilege to know him and have him as a friend for so many years and I will miss him.

Dr. Mary Ruggiero is the vice-president of research and development at a high-performance, thick-film heating materials technology company in Mississauga, Ontario. A dedicated and passionate volunteer, she currently serves as an alumni co-chair in the steering committee for the 100 Years of Materials Innovation celebrations at U of T. You can also read about Dr. Ruggiero in the feature, “Women of MSE: Generations of Trailblazers” in Impact, Volume II.