Colclaser was chair and associate dean in electrical engineering

Robert Gerald “Jerry” Colclaser Jr., former chair of electrical engineering and associate dean for research in electrical engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, died March 4, 2020, at 86.

He will be remembered both for bringing the lessons of industry to Pitt classrooms, says his former doctoral degree advisee, Swanson faculty member Gregory Reed, and for inventing, with a partner, technology that is still used by the electrical utility industry.

In 1992, Reed was in New York City, working for the city’s electrical utility, Consolidated Edison, and contemplating his Ph.D. Jerry Colclaser was tops on his list as potential advisors, Reed recalls, since Colclaser was already famed for his work and had his name on many research publications, as “one of the world’s foremost authorities on electromagnetic transient analysis.”

Reed’s campus visit with Colclaser cemented the decision to come to Pitt, he recalls: “That was a wonderful five years. He was such a pleasant person. He was always upbeat, made you laugh, made you smile. He was just a delightful person to have as a mentor.”

Colclaser had joined Pitt after working for Westinghouse Electric Corp., and still did work for them. He was thus able to bring many practical experiences into his courses, focusing his class assignments on those with applications to real-world projects.

“As a professor, better than anybody, he brought industry into the classroom,” Reed says. “He meant a lot to his students. He had a lot of influence on what I did next,” first working in industry for another dozen years, then joining Pitt as a faculty member.

However, Reed adds, “First and foremost, his biggest contribution to industry was as one of the original developers of the gas-current breaker. To this day, it is the technology of choice for utilities worldwide for how they apply current breakers for the protection of their networks.” In a memorial remembrance sent to colleagues, Reed labeled the invention “one of the most important elements of power system protection, operation, safety and reliability to this day.”

He and many other students stayed in touch with Colchester after his retirement. “It’s a special bond, when someone like Jerry, who has had so much impact on people, passes,” Reed says.

Colclaser was born on Sept. 21, 1933, in Wilkinsburg and received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 1956 and his doctoral degree in the same subject from Pitt.

He was a life fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and won 21 patents for his inventions in electrical power generation and distribution.

He is survived by his wife, Helen; children, Jan M. Hanks (Dale), Robert G. Colclaser III (Alison) and Linda S. Parshook (Bruce); his stepchildren, Michael M. Heck (Debbie), Matthew J. Heck (Theresa) and Michele M. Heck; his brother, Roy A. Colclaser (Judi); and grandchildren Jessica Nicklos, Alexis and Nikolas Parshook, Lara De La Vega and Chase Heck.

Memorial gifts are suggested to the Delmont Public Library, 77 Greensburg Street, Delmont, PA 15626. Please write "R. Colclaser" on check memo line.

— Marty Levine