John Grado, namesake of Virginia Tech’s Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, died Thursday, Nov. 27. He was 87.

“John was a very successful industrialist who was willing to share his expertise and financial successes with others,” said Virginia Tech President Emeritus Paul Torgersen, who met Grado nearly 50 years ago after becoming head of the department that would later bear Grado’s name. “To a great number of people, he was like an older brother, giving advice but only when requested. He was a giant among men. He will be missed by many.”

Grado shared his advice by serving as the first member of the departmental advisory board Torgersen set up. Three years later, when Torgersen became dean of the College of Engineering and established a college-wide advisory board, Grado was the first member added once again.

While serving as a volunteer, Grado also donated generously. In recognition of his generosity, the department was named for him in 2000. Several scholarships and a professorship also bear his name, and he was a member of the President’s Circle within the Ut Prosim Society of donors to Virginia Tech. Grado received Virginia Tech’s Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 2002, was a member of the College of Engineering’s Committee of 100, and had served on the board of the Virginia Tech Foundation.

In 2001, he told Virginia Tech Magazine why he was so enthusiastic about supporting his alma mater.

“You really have the opportunity to change people’s lives,” he said. “My hope is they’ll always remember it and do the same for others when they have the chance.”

Grado grew up in Bristol, Virginia, and enrolled at Virginia Tech at age 16. He suspended his studies to serve in the U.S. Navy for two years during World War II. He returned to the university and completed his bachelor’s in industrial engineering and operations research in 1951.

After entering the paper and printing business, Grado rose rapidly, becoming chief industrial engineer of Fitchburg Paper Co. in 1956. At age 35, he was made corporate vice president of Litton Industries after it bought Fitchburg Paper. 

In 1983, he bought the paper company from Litton and renamed it Technographics. In 1999, Grado sold the company and retired.

Along with supporting Virginia Tech, Grado gave to numerous organizations in the Fitchburg, Massachusetts, area where his company was located. He also supported organizations in and around Marco Island, Florida, where he had a home.

“He was a man of great integrity and generosity,” G. Don Taylor, who heads the Grado Department, said of its namesake. “He was very successful and he gave freely to help others to climb the ladder with him. Although we will have heavy hearts for a while, we can be proud of his legacy, and we can be honored to carry his name forward.”

Grado is survived by his wife, Corrie; daughters, Leighann Grado-Bates, Pamela Grado, and Kristina Grado; granddaughter, Summer Mahoney-Marshall; and great-grandson Beck. He was predeceased by his daughter, Kathy Lynn Grado.

Condolences may be sent to the family at 1137 Blue Hill Creek Drive, Marco Island, FL 34145.

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