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A One-of-a-Kind Pair

Written by Engineering Communications.

William R. (Bill) Garwood, chemical engineering ‘60, and Jeffrey R. (Jeff) Garwood, chemical engineering ‘84, have more in common than a typical father-son pair.

They both went to NC State University, both graduated from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE), both were named a College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus and both had fulfilling careers that took them outside of the United States. They also have a deep respect and admiration for each other.

In 2006, they endowed the Garwood Family Scholarship, which supports CBE students who need financial aid.

“When you begin to really assess how your life evolved, and what were the things that got you to have accelerators or changes in direction — there’s no question that education in both of our experiences has been one of those,” Jeff said.

Bill was born and raised in Cooleemee, NC. With a natural inclination toward math and science, he enrolled at NC State in 1956 as an engineering student. He was one of just two engineering students on the football team, where he was backup quarterback for Roman Gabriel, who played for 15 years in the National Football League.

“I would come out about 3:30 after a lab or something, and my coach would yell ‘Here comes our engineer,’” Bill said. “They’d been practicing for hours already.”

Bill moved to Tennessee after graduation for a job at Eastman Chemical Company and spent more than 39 years there. His last two years, he worked in Europe, where he oversaw Eastman’s expansion and the construction of three plants in England and Spain. He retired as president of Tennessee Eastman Division in 1997.

Despite the family connection to NC State, Jeff wasn’t dead set on joining the Wolfpack and applied to several schools with strong chemical engineering programs. When he toured NC State with his father, they made a stop in Riddick Hall. There was one advisor, J. Frank Seely, professor emeritus until 1991, who recognized Bill and pulled out his file.

“It was a very special moment,” Jeff said. “That’s when I decided to go to NC State.”

After he graduated, Jeff took a different approach to his career, moving 18 times in 27 years and visiting about 100 countries, mostly through work. He spent the majority of his career at General Electric (GE), where he ran three of its global businesses and retired as president and CEO of GE Water and Process Technologies in 2009. That same year, he founded Liberation Capital, a Charlotte, NC-based global equity firm that provides project finance for clean technology infrastructure.

Both Garwoods have come back to NC State to talk to CBE students, who they advise to try new things — something that benefitted both of them.

“I’ve had a great advisor in my father and being able to bounce ideas off of him,” Jeff said. “Stories, or careers, or experiences, are made if you are willing to make a turn.”