In Memoriam: Francis 'Greg' Shinskey

In Memoriam: Francis 'Greg' Shinskey
In Memoriam: Francis 'Greg' Shinskey

Francis Gregway “Greg” Shinskey, of North Tonawanda, N.Y., was born Oct. 29, 1931, and passed away peacefully in North Smithfield, R.I., on Sept. 25, 2021. He was 89.

Shinskey graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1952 with a B.S. in chemical engineering and as a commissioned naval officer. He served two years in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War before beginning his career with Olin Chemical Company, in New York. In 1960, he hit his stride with The Foxboro Company, in Massachusetts, where his stellar career as a control systems engineer spanned more than three decades.

Shinskey was not only an expert but also an innovator and visionary. In “The Foxboro Company, 1908-2008, 100 Years,” Jack Authelet writes that he is “considered by many in the industry as the genius behind feedforward control,” and that he retired “as the most recognized, widely published name in the industry, holder of 18 patents, author of more than 100 published papers on process control and seven books that became standards within the industry.”

The prolific industry author shared his expertise as a frequent lecturer and in the seminal textbook Process Control Systems, published by McGraw-Hill and used in college courses across the country. He penned “Feedback Controllers for the Process Industries” after he retired. His materials continue to be utilized, carrying on his legacy of mentorship.

He was one of the first two Bristol Fellows—he and Hoel Bowditch were honored simultaneously—named by The Foxboro Company. From the International Society of Automation, Shinskey earned the Donald P. Eckman Award, in 1983; the Albert F. Sperry Award, in 1988; the status of Fellow, in 1990; and the Life Achievement Award, in 2008.

“I often thought that there was nobody that had more impact on forwarding the mission of ISA during my lifetime than Greg Shinskey,” says Peter Martin, a retired executive from Schneider Electric, which had previously acquired Invensys and, before that, Foxboro. “ISA was like the automation and control leader of industry, and Greg was the control leader of industry. If I think back during my career, there are probably only a few names that come up that are even close to that. He kind of set the path for them.”

Martin adds, “Greg was also probably one of the world's leading controls people around distillation columns, which are particularly tricky to control. Even after he retired, he would monitor the distillation columns of Petro-Canada from his barn.” Shinskey’s own bio made brief mention of his contributions in the application of feedforward controls and Relative Gain Analysis, as well as nonlinear and self-tuning controllers with deadtime compensation.

Martin recalls encountering Shinskey for the first time in the ‘70s. “When I first joined Foxboro, Greg Shinskey was the person. Everybody said, ‘Oh, have you met Greg Shinskey?’ He was almost a demigod at that time. It was fascinating, because when he walked in the room, everybody just got quiet: ‘Here comes Greg. Let's see what Greg has to say.’ Certainly, he was an engineer, probably the ultimate engineer—he graduated from Notre Dame and he really knew his stuff. But the thing that surprised me was what a complete ‘gentle man’ he was, in the truest sense of the word. He was just about the nicest person you'd ever meet.”

Authelet shares the same sentiment. “He was very humble. He was incredibly talented in his contributions to the products being developed by the Foxboro Company and was held in great esteem in the industry and different industrial groups, but he himself was very quiet and unassuming.”

Indicative of Shinskey’s ability to transfer his knowledge via books, Martin recalls, “As smart as he was, he was just such a good teacher. When I came in, I was not a control engineer, so I had a lot of questions. He'd just take the time, and he’d explain it. Very often people who know the most can explain it the simplest. They know it so well that they can just tell it to you, and Greg could explain things in such a simple way. I learned control engineering from Greg.”

While his curiosity and scientific mind afforded him and the Foxboro Company much success, at the same time Shinskey was an artistic soul and beloved family man of great faith who was highly active in his church and community. For years, he had a column in the local newspaper, of which Authelet was the editor, called “God in Our Lives.” Says Authelet, “It was nondenominational—just comments about faith-based people and the choices we make and the lives we live and how do we care for each other. It was just remarkable in and of itself.”

Shinskey took great pleasure in his historic Foxboro, Massachusetts farm home built in the 1770s. He also enjoyed oil painting, hiking, gardening and his self-restored 1959 Morris Mini bicycle. Peter Martin recalls him wearing his Harris tweed jacket, riding that bicycle from building to building to talk to customers or teach a course if the weather was right.

Says Authelet, “Greg was definitely a very unusual individual. Incredibly, incredibly talented, yet asked absolutely nothing for himself. But he lived his faith, and that took him to the heights.”

Shinskey continued to serve as an independent consultant when he retired in 1993 to Sandwich, N.H., with his wife, Elizabeth. He is survived by his three daughters, five sons, 17 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, as well as his brother and two sisters.

About The Author


Lynn DeRocco is a content editor at Automation.com.


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