In memoriam: J. Wallace ‘Wally’ Grant, Kevin P. Granata Faculty Fellow Emeritus of Engineering Science and Mechanics
Grant, a committed educator, dedicated researcher, and beloved peer and mentor, played an integral role in establishing the School of Biomedical Engineering Sciences, currently in its 20th year.
John Wallace “Wally” Grant II, who taught in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering for more than three decades, has passed away at the age of 81 after a brief battle with cancer. He was the Kevin P. Granata Faculty Fellow Emeritus of Engineering Science and Mechanics.
From Charleston, West Virginia, Grant received his bachelor’s degree from the West Virginia University Institute of Technology and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Tulane University. He first worked as a research scientist for DuPont before joining the faculty at Virginia Tech in 1981, where he remained until his retirement in 2012.
“I first met Wally while studying engineering science and mechanics as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, and he had just joined as faculty,” said Jennifer Wayne '83, head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. “He was the epitome of excellence in academia — in the classroom, research lab, the department, the college, and beyond. Wally was very special to so many — a kind, supportive, and gentle man. We will all miss him dearly.”
During Grant’s time at the university, he helped establish the School of Biomedical Engineering (SBES), currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. He served as both the director and ultimately department head until 2009. Grant was an accomplished researcher and dedicated engineer, securing several million dollars in research awards and biomechanics funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Romesh Batra, University Distinguished and Clifton C. Garvin Professor, who joined the engineering science and mechanics faculty in 1994, said he and Grant would often share thoughts on academic affairs while consuming their daily allotment of almonds. Batra also spoke of the care and concern Grant had for the welfare of his students.
“Wally’s commitment to his students was evident in his approach to mentorship through encouragement and challenging students to creatively solve problems,” Batra said.
A committed educator, Grant taught courses ranging from undergraduate fundamentals in engineering to graduate-level courses and research. He led a U.S. Navy research program on pilot disorientation, and his lab at Virginia Tech drove groundbreaking research into the function of the vestibular system, the gravity-sensing part of the inner ear that allows all animals, including humans, to balance in space.
Grant was twice awarded a Certificate of Teaching Excellence from the College of Engineering as well as received the Frank J. Maher Award for Excellence in Engineering Education. In addition, he was appointed as the first Kevin P. Granata Faculty Fellow in 2010. Upon his retirement two years later, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors honored him with emeritus status.
After leaving Virginia Tech, Grant remained active in research, publishing an article in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 2019. He also had a lifetime commitment to Scouting, serving as the scoutmaster of Troop 152 at United Methodist in Blacksburg for 20 years. He was a member of the Order of the Arrow and was awarded the Wood Badge, one of the highest awards for an adult leader in Scouts.
Grant was a world-class small water fly-fisher of the dry fly, a loving husband, devoted father, and doting grandfather. His obituary described him as “good to have with you in a tough spot, an optimist, a problem-solver, and a source of strength to those around him.”