The Kettering University community mourns the loss of Kettering University alumnus and member of our University Board of Trustees, Dr. Gary Cowger, who passed away on February 17 at the age of 75.
Cowger graduated in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Kettering University (formerly the General Motors Institute), a master of science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978, and an honorary doctorate from Kettering University (Engineering) in 2007.
He began his career at General Motors as a student co-op in 1965 and retired after 45 years with the company. He rose through the ranks to become president of GM North America before being appointed to manage all of GM’s global manufacturing operations. He has taken great care and pride in developing talent at GM, serving as a mentor to many, including current GM president and CEO Mary Barra (’85, EE).
Throughout his life, Cowger’s deep passion for Kettering University never waned; he served first on the University’s Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Advisory Board from 1994 to 1996 and then on the University’s Board of Trustees from 1999 to the present. From 2009 to 2011 he was Prime Minister.
He also most recently served as chairman of the Boldly Forward Capital Campaign, which ran from 2012 to 2021. The campaign was the University’s most successful, exceeding its goal by raising $155 million to support scholarships, faculty, programs , facilities, Learning Commons and more.
He knew the value of a Kettering education and made his first gift to the University in 1987. Over the years, he and his wife, Kay, founded the Gary and Kay Cowger Endowed Scholarship Fund to support female engineering students with financial need. Their generosity has also made possible the Gary and Kay Cowger Boardroom in the Campus Center and, more recently, the Cowger Kiva in the Learning Commons.
“Kettering is a gem in the quality of education it offers young people and in the whole co-op experience where you come out as a practicing engineer and not a theoretical engineer,” Cowger said in 2014. “And you come out working with people who they know your skills and help mentor your skills. That institution is worth protecting and supporting.”
The Kettering/GMI Alumni Association honored Cowger with its 2005 Outstanding Achievement Award, 2000 Human Relations Award and 1995 Management Achievement Award. The University also honored him with its 75th Anniversary Award in 1994.
“Gary was a very special human being with a deep love for this institution and he will be greatly missed. I will miss his sage advice, insights, wisdom and dynamic personality,” said university president Dr. Robert K. McMahan. “I am grateful to him and Kay for all they have done for all us at Kettering.”
In addition to serving on the Board of Trustees of Kettering University, Cowger has served on the boards of trustees of the College of Creative Studies, Focus HOPE and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Cowger was born on April 18, 1947 to parents Glen Leland and Esther (Smith) Cowger in Kansas City, Kansas. His passion for automobiles, higher education and volunteer service has been manifested throughout his life.
Leaving wife of 54 years, Kay Cowger; his son, Christopher Cowger; and four grandchildren, Alex Narvaez, Sydney Narvaez, Bretton Cowger and Bodhi Cowger. His daughter Melinda Narvaez and nephew Mark Narvaez predeceased him in his death.
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