Materials science professor remembered as dedicated researcher, enthusiastic teacher, and fun-loving friend

He was “a surprisingly normal person for being so smart.”

The quote was one of many memories shared by friends and loved ones of professor Richard P. Vinci that drew laughter and knowing nods from those who came to celebrate his life.

A memorial service for the professor of materials science and engineering, who died in March at age 52 from ALS, was held May 1 at Packer Memorial Chapel. Hundreds of Lehigh community members packed the historic church to honor a dedicated husband, father, and teacher who “wholly embodied the role of scholar-mentor.” Speakers shared their recollections of Vinci’s life and the impact he made on those around him.

“As a community of family, friends, and colleagues, we are all drawn together today by our care for, and our relationships with, Rick, Michelle, and their family,” said Alexandra Hendrickson, chaplain at Lafayette College, where Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci is a professor of Spanish.

Hendrickson led the celebration, which featured moments of remembrance from friends and colleagues Roger LeBeof and Paul Besser, Lehigh emeritus faculty member Richard Hertzberg, professor Wojciech Misiolek, and PhD candidate Allison Fraser ’17 ’19G. Musical interludes were provided by the jazz quartet of Sean McAnally, Bill Goodwin, Paul Rostock, and Skip Wilkins.

Speakers recalled Vinci’s kindness, his sense of humor, his talent as a scholar, and his singular ability to teach. A life well lived was reflected in each anecdote with words like “dedicated,” “respected,” and “loved.”

Thinking about Rick, I suggest we remember him as ALS, an Amazingly Learned Scholar, an Articulate Leader Supreme, and an Amazing Loving Spouse.
Richard Hertzberg, Lehigh emeritus faculty member

“He will always remain in my heart,” said Hertzberg, who, as chair of the materials science and engineering department at the time, brought Vinci on board at Lehigh.

Misiolek, the current department chair, came to Lehigh the year before Vinci arrived. Misiolek described watching the newly minted Stanford University PhD grow from a young professor to a leader on campus and in his field.

“Rick was a talented scientist with a strong engineering foundation,” said Misiolek, “and had what I like to call ‘scientific elegance’ in his research.” He described Vinci as an effective administrator, an approachable teacher, and a colleague who “always made life very pleasant for everyone around him.”  

Fraser, a graduate student in materials science who previously earned her bachelor’s degree with the department, spoke of Rick as an engaging educator and a trusted advisor. “He always knew how to customize his teaching and advice to reach whoever he was trying to reach,” she said.

At the end of his remarks, Hertzberg acknowledged the weight of the acronym that marked the final chapter for his “academic son.” But he encouraged the audience to attribute a different meaning to those letters. When thinking about Rick, said Hertzberg, remember him as “an Amazingly Learned Scholar, an Articulate Leader Supreme, and an Amazing Loving Spouse.”

Geoffrion-Vinci spoke last. She thanked those in attendance for celebrating her husband’s life. And she acknowledged the many people who accompanied her family during the last two and a half years, sharing the weight of their sadness and loss.

“All of these people have helped us move forward with courage, hope and hugs, love, laughter and purpose,” she said. “Many are here with us right now, and still more are here in spirit. In a world grown increasingly more hostile and fixated on self-preservation, this is extraordinary. You are extraordinary.”

Richard P. Vinci

Professor Rick Vinci

Packer Memorial Chapel

The Lehigh community gathered at Packer Memorial Chapel on May 1 for a memorial celebration.

Vinci family photo
Vinci family photo

Vinci family photos courtesy of Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci