Michael Francis Hein, son of Francis Hubert Hein and Anna Louise Trosclair Hein, passed away on June 21, 2019 in his home in Auburn, Alabama. He was surrounded by his wife of 37 years, Kathleen (Kitty) Frey; his children, Andrew (Stella Hein), Gabriel (Britt Marett Hein), Vincent Luke, and Savannah; and his grandchildren, Olive, Frances, and Lawrence. Michael was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and lived on both coasts before settling in Auburn in 1987.
As a beloved professor of Building Science at Auburn University, Michael was an explorer of both places and ideas. He was a teacher and mentor to thousands of students and many junior faculty members in his 28 years there. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Tulane and a Master’s degree in structural engineering from Princeton, he discovered his affinity for teaching while living in the Pacific Northwest. He spent his early years in teaching at Bellevue Community College and the University of Washington, where his passion for education helped his students’ creativity blossom. A guiding force in his career was a desire to understand the relationship between utility and beauty in the engineered environment – the idea that the objects we build should fulfill physical but also emotional and spiritual needs. He often looked to nature – the branches of live oaks, the curvature of nautilus shells – for clues about how to achieve this goal. He challenged generations of students to explore these and many other ideas that merged engineering and humanities.
In his private life, Michael was a great lover of music and language. He was a musician in the school band from a young age, and even in his last days, he never stopped discovering music that moved him. Like his father, he was drawn to poetry and language; he would often play with words just to enjoy the sound of them and their amusing combinations. Reading, writing, and solitary walks in the outdoors became a central focus in his final years, during which he used these pursuits to understand his struggle with mortality. Finally, Michael felt a deep connection with nature and all wild places. This he shared with his wife, children, and grandchildren.
Although Michael and his wife, Kitty, both left home at early ages, family drew them back toward their New Orleans roots. They prioritized visits with family, and Michael made time to connect with nieces and nephews, parents, siblings, and in-laws. The “Frey Hein household” was always a place where friends of all ages could gather and truly feel at home, in large part because of Michael’s gracious nature as a host. In his final years, Michael embraced the community of friends his wife, Kitty, had developed through teaching the moving art of Tai Chi, a practice that Michael had originally introduced to her in Seattle in 1980.
The hundreds of messages the family has received since Michael was diagnosed with cancer testify to the tremendous reach of his gentle nature, his kindness, his quiet but unwavering sense of what is right and moral, and his profound respect for all living things. Michael’s children and grandchildren will carry with them his love of learning, nature, music, language, the importance of human connections, and the understanding that we are all part of something much greater than ourselves.
Michael follows his father, Francis, and sister Cheryl Ann Plaisance to the beyond. He leaves behind his mother and his siblings, Stephen Hein, Kathryn Dakin, Mary Thomas, and John Hein. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that charitable donations be made in Michael’s memory. A memorial ceremony will take place Friday, June 28 at 6pm at the Auburn Davis Arboretum. Information about donations and the ceremony is available at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/michaelhein
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