ECE History: William L. Everitt

Everitt is remembered by former students and colleagues as the only UI engineering dean who would rather use his head than think on his feet. One of Everitt's quirkier traits was his ability to stand on his head. According to an old newspaper report, he would perform this feat on demand, often at service club meetings or charity fundraisers. The dean claimed he started standing on his head at age 30 to keep from becoming bald." But, he once noted after running his hand over his fairly hairless head, as you see, I did not succeed."

Students who came in contact with Everitt usually were struck by his personal interest in them. Before coming to Illinois in 1944 to head the department of electrical engineering, Everitt taught at Ohio State University, where students referred to him as "Uncle Bill." An award citation noted that students there "followed him about the golf course to talk over their problems, and on Sunday afternoons sat on stools in the Everitt kitchen with their feet up while their professor mopped the floor."

William L. Everitt
William L. Everitt

As dean of the engineering college at Illinois from 1949 to 1968, Everitt maintained his reputation for accessibility. His open-door policy was so widely known that when he retired in 1968, fellow administrators mounted the "unused" knob from his office door on a plaque and presented it to him as a tribute. Undergraduate students showed their appreciation for the dean by establishing the annual William Everitt Awards for Excellence in Teaching and making him the first recipient.

Born in Baltimore in 1900, Everitt earned his bachelor's degree from Cornell University, his master's from the University of Michigan, and his doctorate from OSU. He taught at all three universities. During World War II - between serving on the faculties of OSU and the UI - he was director of the Operational Research Staff for the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, U.S. Army, where he pioneered the idea of operational research.

When he came to Illinois, Everitt promoted new ideas in teaching and encouraged graduate study and interdisciplinary research. He also advocated cooperation between science and humanities, and believed engineering graduate students should supplement their technical training with course work in commerce, agriculture and liberal arts. He also believed good grammar and spelling should be stressed in engineering classrooms.

Everitt invented several electrical and electronic devices, including automatic telephone equipment, a frequency modulation radio altimeter, and several antenna matching and feeding systems. A founding member of the National Academy of Engineering, he developed principles of high-power radio amplification and co-invented the automatic "time compressor," which speeds up recorded speech or music to fit shorter broadcast time periods. Everitt's extensive writings included two textbooks - Communications Engineering" and Fundamentals of Radio." He also edited a series of more than 100 textbooks published by Prentice-Hall.

Throughout his career, his achievements were acknowledged repeatedly by peers and professional societies. In addition to receiving countless awards and medals and serving as a top officer in several engineering organizations, Everitt was named to the American Society for Engineering Education's hall of fame. He also was cited as one of the top 10 electrical engineers of all time by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Everitt and his wife of 55 years, Dorothy, raised two daughters and a son. The couple also served as "guardian-sponsors" to two sons of a Chinese colleague, who asked the Everitts to raise the children after the Chinese government fell under Communist control in 1949. Dorothy Everitt died in 1978; and two years later the former dean married Margaret Anderson Larson. William Everitt died in 1986.