IIAR Remembers: Joe Buck

Armed with a Master’s degree in plasma physics, Joe Buck understood industrial refrigeration like few other people. As an engineer and a college professor, Buck was an inspiration to his colleagues and to hundreds of students who went on to careers in the refrigeration industry.

A long-time leader in the refrigeration industry, William Joseph (Joe) Buck, 70, died on May 22 from complications of pneumonia in Fairhope, Alabama.

“Joe understood the fundamentals of refrigeration and he also knew the physics behind what is going on with the refrigeration process,” said Zahid Ayub, a long-time colleague who became a close friend of Buck while attending numerous IIAR and ASHRAE conferences through the years. “He had the Masters in plasma physics, so he was very knowledgeable in thermal dynamics. That combination of knowledge with practical experience made him stand out within the industry.”

Buck was a major contributor to both IIAR and ASHRAE. He served on the board of directors of both organizations, was vice-president of ASHRAE, and was also a member of multiple industry committees, including Section 10 technical committees, the Refrigeration Committee and the Technology Council. He served as chairman of the IIAR’s CFC Committee in 1989-90 and the Research Committee in 1990-91. He became an associate member of IIAR in 1980.

He was honored by ASHRAE as Engineer of the Year in 1985, and was given its Distinguished Service Award in 1992 and the Exceptional Service Award in 2003.

Buck was born in Mobile, Alabama and earned his degree at Auburn University, where he completed a significant portion of his doctoral research in atomic fusion. After serving in the U.S. Army, he embarked on a 40-year career as an engineer specializing in industrial refrigeration systems.

He was vice-president/sales engineer at Engineered Refrigeration Systems from 1978 to 2003, and was company president from 2003-04. After ERS was purchased by the CIMCO Refrigeration division of Toromont Industries in 2004, he served as president until his retirement last year.

“Joe was one of the leading advocates for ammonia refrigeration within ASHRAE,” said Kent Anderson, a past president of IIAR. “He really tried to promote the understanding of ammonia refrigeration. He wanted people to know the basics, the principles and the technology behind it.”

Ayub worked closely with Buck on numerous projects that required in-depth knowledge of specialized equipment. “He was very good at jobs working with extremely low temperatures,” he said. “I worked with him on a project at a plant where fluid was being cooled at minus-80 to -90 degrees. It was the first of its kind. He was in charge of everything on the refrigeration side.”

Throughout his career, Buck taught and mentored mechanical engineering students at the University of South Alabama. “I think he might have been most happy when he was teaching physics at the college level,” Anderson said.

Rebecca Laughlin, an engineer at CIMCO, was inspired by Buck to return to school to obtain her mechanical engineering degree. “I considered him a friend and my mentor,” she said. “He took the time to teach me countless lessons about refrigeration. His wealth of knowledge will be greatly missed.”

He is survived by his wife, Gayle; two daughters, Jennifer Webb and Cheri (Jimmy) Lumpkin; three stepchildren, Ryan (Kelly) Foster, Kate (Brad) Davis and Dana (Prent) Davis; his father, Ken Eugene Buck; his sister, Marilyn Pace; as well as seven grandchildren.