Raymond Palmer Jefferis III, 79, of Wayne, a professor of electrical engineering at Widener University for more than a half-century, died Sunday, March 25, of a stroke at Paoli Hospital.

Raymond Palmer Jefferis III
Courtesy of the family
Raymond Palmer Jefferis III

"Professor Jefferis had a profound impact on thousands of students in his more than five decades at the university," said communications director Mary E. Allen. "He was our longest-tenured faculty member and had a unique perspective on our history, having joined Widener when it was Pennsylvania Military College. Ray was a devoted teacher, mentor, and friend. We join his family in grieving his loss."

Dr. Jefferis was a lifelong teacher and tinkerer whose idea of fun was making engineering improvements to the satellite mapping of radio towers, or changes to make metal detectors stronger. His tweaks had practical applications – the enhanced metal detectors were used at archaeological digs in the Brandywine Valley and at similar sites in Delaware.

Dr. Jefferis founded and ran Hieronetics Inc., a home business, for 25 years. The firm was a designer and manufacturer of testing and calibration equipment for the pharmaceutical and coal refining industries.

He held two patents, one on a way to sterilizing medical instruments with chlorine gas, and the second for removing impurities from coal particles during the coal refining process.

But Dr. Jefferis was best known as a faculty member at Widener, where he served in the School of Engineering from 1965 until retiring last December. His only hiatus was the two years he spent in the mid-1970s as a Fulbright Scholar at the Institute of Microbiology in Braunschweig, Germany.

"I am an interdisciplinary engineer with published work in modeling and control of fermentation, freeze drying, enzyme extraction, and coal purification," he wrote on the Widener Engineering School's website. "I believe that students should be exposed to the applied side of engineering and be able to do meaningful engineering designs integrating multiple disciplines."

Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Dr. Jefferis was raised in Media. He graduated from Friends' Central School in Wynnewood and earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

His son-in-law Matthew Levitties said that for Dr. Jefferis, "everything was a teaching opportunity." His life was also a study in do-it-yourself learning.

While in middle school, he taught himself Morse code and obtained an amateur radio license. He had a radio setup in his basement, from which he talked with radio buffs around the world.

"He would emerge from his workshop with great excitement to tell his siblings and parents who he had spoken with and what he had learned," his family said.

Dr. Jefferis joined a volunteer group that supports the Chester County Department of Emergency Services with backup communication when there are lapses in service due to phone outages or other problems. The group is Chester County ARES / RACES, or Amateur Radio Emergency Service / Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service.

Joe Vilardo, a friend and fellow group member, said: "One day I asked Ray how he became involved in amateur radio emergency communications. He told me he was driving in Manhattan to visit his daughter on Sept. 11, 2001.

"In the midst of the chaos that followed the attack on the World Trade Center, while trying to reach his daughter to make sure she was safe, and extracting himself from Manhattan, he vowed that he wasn't going to be a bystander in future emergencies."

Dr. Jefferis took every emergency-preparedness course he could find.

"No one had completed more courses than Ray," Vilardo said. "The trunk of his automobile was the model 'go kit' for emergency communications preparedness. He lived and practiced our mission statement of being self-sustaining for 72 hours."

Most important, Dr. Jefferis responded whenever the group was activated. "Everyone knew Ray was always prepared and was always ready to answer the call for volunteers, and he did many times," Vilardo said.

Dr. Jefferis responded in Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and during an ice storm in 2014. He also did volunteer work in communications for the American Red Cross.

A Quaker, he was a descendant of Robert Jefferis, who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1683 and settled in the Brandywine Valley. Dr. Jefferis was a trustee of Providence Friends Meeting in Media, and served on the board of directors for both the Media-Providence Friends School and the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades.

In 1967, Dr. Jefferis married Sibylle Bierhals. They raised two daughters in Wayne.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Jefferis is survived by daughters Anja Levitties and Elga Killinger; four grandchildren; and a brother and sister.

There will be a memorial meeting for worship at 11 a.m. Friday, March 30, at Providence Friends Meeting, 105 N. Providence Rd., Media. A visitation will begin at 10 a.m. Burial is private.

Memorial donations may be made to the School of Engineering, Widener University, 1 University Place, Chester, Pa. 19013.