George E. Lear

NO. 17472  •  17 July 1927 – 15 November 2000

Died in Silver Spring, MD 
Interred in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA

When we lost George Emory Lear, we lost one of the bravest men to ever live. After a grueling nine‑month battle, he succumbed to cancer. He left behind three distinguished careers: as a military officer, a nuclear engineer, and a sailor.

George was born and raised in Weirton, WV. He graduated from Weir High School in 1945 and attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute for a year before entering West Point in 1946. He was an impressive flanker in M‑2 Company, and a member of the Cadet Chapel Choir, the Pistol and Ski Clubs, from which he would later make a big jump to sailing.

As a cadet, he worked hard, always was prepared for the next day's lesson, and then turned to help others. These qualities, combined with his intelligence, made him an outstanding officer. His academic achievements are memorable: a bachelor of science from the Academy; a master's in civil and nuclear engineering from Northwestern University; a second master's in nuclear engineering from Catholic University of America; and certification as a professional engineer. He leaves behind many technical publications on nuclear reactors and radioactive waste management.

George's military career took him from combat engineer platoon leader in support of the 7th Infantry and 1st Marine Divisions (1950‑51) in the Korean War to engineer company commander, tactical officer at Engineer OCS, duty on the USAREUR Engineer Division staff, and CGSC. As he rose in seniority, he served in the Office of the Chief of Engineers as a project officer in the Nuclear Power Division, designing and building a nuclear power plant for an isolated post in the Alaskan wilderness. For that, he received the Meritorious Service Medal. Next, he served as the plans officer, Engineer Section, Eighth Army, Korea, followed by a tour at West Point as an associate professor of mathematics.

After further service with the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), George retired as a colonel and continued a civilian career with the AEC, which was redesignated the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). With the NRC, he joined the Senior Executive Service, working on commercial nuclear reactors and radioactive waste disposal problems. He became a director for licensing, construction, and operation of commercial nuclear power plants, requiring expertise in nuclear power plant design, supervision of reactor operation, monitoring of environmental concerns, and the hydrologic and geotechnical aspects of plant sites. Upon his second retirement, he became a consultant to the World Bank, working with the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation on control of radioactive waste from peacetime nuclear facilities.

George's 25 years of sailing were equally impressive. He raced sailboats competitively with his wife Mary Ellen and with midshipmen of the Naval Academy. He and Mary Ellen also spent many happy days cruising the Chesapeake Bay. They purchased their last boat, Souffle, shortly before George was diagnosed with his terminal illness. While fighting cancer, he spent his time looking forward to the day when he could again pack his golf clubs and tennis racket on the boat and sail away with Mary Ellen to another adventure.

His other activities include volunteering as coach at the Naval Academy for 22 years and teaching midshipmen how to sail. While there, he served as a safety officer and officer in charge on the Naval Academy yacht's racing in ocean competition, including many Annapolis‑to‑Bermuda races, for which he received numerous awards. As a volunteer, he taught piloting and celestial navigation for the Naval Academy Sailing Squadron and for his own company, Lear Enterprises. In addition, George earned his Coast Guard 100‑ton captain’s license on inland waters.

His most recent contribution was as chairman of the West Point Sailing Foundation. George was a dedicated supporter of cadet sailing at West Point, generously giving his time and resources to develop a competitive Army sailing team. In his memory, the foundation annually presents the George E. Lear Outstanding Cadet Competitive Sailing Award to a member of the Army sailing team.

George's other hobbies included studying French, which brought him great satisfaction; playing golf, which gave him great challenges; and playing tennis, which brought him many competitive hours of pleasure. He was a man who always was reading, studying, and actively pursuing new challenges.

One of his challenges, in later years, was serving on the board of directors of the Planned Lifetime Assistance Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of the handicapped. He worked diligently for that cause. In addition, he was the Vindo Sailing Club commodore of Chesapeake Bay, Spring Cove Yacht Club director, member of the Southern Maryland Sailing Association, and a member of the board of the Annapolis Naval Sailing Association.

He also was a member of the Sigma Xi Research Society, a leadership donor to the Bicentennial Campaign for West Point, a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Nuclear Society Silver Certificate, Baltimore‑Washington Health Physics Society, the Cullum Society, the U.S. Naval Institute, the Institute of Navigation, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the Military Order of the Caribou.

Survivors include his wife Mary Ellen Shepherd Lear; four daughters from a previous marriage: Amy, Mary, Georgianna, and Dorthy Lear; two stepdaughters: Beth and Heather Scharf; and four grandchildren. He dearly loved his family and, shortly before his death, said of them, "All the women are beautiful, the men handsome, and the grandchildren above average."

George loved West Point. Later in his life, when he sang the "Alma Mater," he did so standing a bit taller, chest extended a bit further, and chin up a little higher. "And when our work is done, our course is run, may it be said, 'Well done. Be thou at peace.' "

His wife, Bill Davis, and Frank King