Most of Nancy DeLoye Fitzroy’s friends were all about going to Skidmore College and finding a husband. She had other plans.
“I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to go to Skidmore and get my degree in ‘Mrs.,’ ” said Fitzroy, a Pittsfield, Mass., native and a mechanical engineer at General Electric Co. for 37 years from 1950-87. “They wanted to get married, but that didn’t interest me.”
Fitzroy’s career and life story, which did include a 53-year marriage to Roland V. Fitzroy, will be the subject of another video from The Wizards of Schenectady series produced by the Edison Tech Center. The 40-minute documentary will be aired publicly for the first time Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Edison Tech Center on North Broadway in Schenectady. Doors will open at 1 p.m., and a reception will follow the film.
Fitzroy, who received a degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1949, was recognized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 2008 for her “tireless efforts and lasting influence as an advocate of the mechanical engineering profession.” She worked in the fields of fluid flow and heat transfer, and played a big role in the launch of the first satellite GE placed into orbit.
‘Little Miss Fix-it’
“I always liked working at the forefront of technology,” said Fitzroy, whose husband passed away in 2004. “At first, GE didn’t hire me as an engineer. But I figured if I just went to work and started doing what I was capable of they’d make me an engineer, and that’s eventually what happened. I was always interested in that kind of stuff. My mother used to call me, ‘Little Miss Fix-it.’ ”
While Fitzroy was always tinkering with gadgets when she was a young girl, it wasn’t until a high school math teacher told her about ‘celestial navigation’ that she started thinking about becoming an engineer.
“Instead of taking a study hall, I took his class in celestial navigation, and I really enjoyed it,” said Fitzroy. “He was a friend of my father’s, and my father may have put him up to it, but I ended up writing to RPI and MIT and asked them if they knew a good school where a girl can study engineering,” she said. “They both sent me back applications, I filled them out and got accepted at both places. I went to RPI because I was a shy girl, and I thought the smaller classes would be better for me.”
Fitzroy was awarded an honorary doctor of science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1987 and an honorary degree of doctor of engineering from RPI in 1990. She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1995 and was chosen as an Honorary Fellow of Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1988.
Fitzroy was named president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1986, becoming the first woman to earn that distinction.
“She was in the esoteric field of heat transfer, and there’s no product that you actually build with that,” said Edison Tech treasurer Bill Kornrumpf. “But it’s critical in all areas, from space travel, from rocketry all the way down to electronics. Nancy was a real enabler of other people. She would come in and help them solve their problems at some very critical steps in their program, and she would help them finish up that project. She had an outstanding career.”
Mike Whelan is the videographer and producer of the video, which includes an interview with Fitzroy done by former WRGB newsman Ernie Tetreault. Fitzroy has not yet seen the film in its entirety.
“I think it’s great that through this biography they have very cleverly used me as a vehicle to tell people about the kind of work that was done here in Schenectady and is still being done here,” said Fitzroy. “I enjoyed working at KAPL and the research lab, and the people I worked with were great. They all treated me like their kid sister. They didn’t care that I wore a skirt.”
A pilot who also flew helicopters, Fitzroy said she owes all her success to her family.
“I had two older brothers and sisters, and they never tried to mold me too hard in any direction,” said Fitzroy. “I had a wonderful family and parents who let me do my own thing and supported me.”
Now 85, Fitzroy says she has no plans of slowing down.
“I just finished reviewing 32 nominees for membership in the National Academy of Engineering in Washington,” said Fitzroy. “People continue calling me to be a mentor for young women, and that’s fine, but I’m happy to work with women, girls and young men. I think they all deserve mentoring.”