Family Login:

John J. McKetta, Jr

Obituary for John J. McKetta, Jr

October 17, 1915 - January 15, 2019
Austin, Texas | Age 103


John J. McKetta Jr., known by friends as "Johnny" and by family as "Djiedo," left his loving family on January 15, 2019. He was 103. Johnny was born to John and Mary Gelet McKetta on October 17, 1915, in the coal mining hamlet of Wyano, Pennsylvania. He grew up in a series of Western Pennsylvania coal towns, speaking only Ukrainian until he attended first grade. After graduating from high school, he mined coal for two years and also became a regional Golden Gloves welterweight champion. His coal mining career ended at age 20, when he applied to 55 colleges that taught chemical engineering. He attended Tri-State College (now Trine University) in Angola, Indiana – the only college which both admitted him and offered him a job to pay his tuition.

For 67 years, Johnny was married to and very much in love with Helen Elisabeth Smith McKetta, nicknamed "Pinky," whom he met in graduate school at the University of Michigan and married on his birthday in 1943. Austin became their home when Johnny came to teach at The University of Texas as a young Chemical Engineering professor in 1946. Johnny and Pinky are remembered as a deeply generous couple who opened their Austin lakeside home to students and who welcomed everyone they met into their family. At UT, Johnny was known for practical jokes, throwing chalk at sleeping students, writing his weight on the chalkboard when he was trying to go on a diet, flashing peeks of his burnt orange underpants (the official school color), and inspiring his students to become the best people and engineers possible. His goofy sense of humor, open ways of expressing affection (his alma mater calls him "The Hugster"), and work ethic have touched and inspired thousands of students and colleagues. In his long career he had many roles: he was one of the world's foremost energy experts, Dean of UT's College of Engineering, UT's Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, an energy advisor to five U.S. presidents, Chair of the National Energy Policy Committee, Chair of the Southern Interstate Nuclear Board, Chair of the Texas Atomic Energy Advisory Committee, editor of a 68-volume encyclopedia, author or editor of 20 other books, and author of 400 technical papers. Johnny was one of the most widely known and respected professors in his field. His peers elected him president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 1962. In 1989, Johnny was awarded the Hoover Medal, which recognizes "great, unselfish, non-technical services by engineers to humanity." Above all, he dedicated his life to his students, whom he phoned each year on their birthdays. Thousands of his former students raised more than $28 million to celebrate his contributions to their lives and to chemical engineering; and in 2012, The University of Texas at Austin rechristened his home department the John J. McKetta Jr. Department of Chemical Engineering. UT's Texas Exes named Johnny first on its 2013 list of the Top 10 Best and Most Inspiring Professors. Trine University, where Johnny served as trustee for 50 years, named its Chemical Engineering department after him in 1997 and also named Johnny "Patronus Sanctus Facultatis" – Patron Saint of the Faculty. Johnny's journey from coal miner to noted leader in chemical engineering has been the subject of hundreds of articles and interviews, a biography, and a documentary film.

Johnny is preceded in death by his beloved Pinky and their daughter Mary Anne. He is survived by his children Charles William "Charley" McKetta and Kreta Johnson of Moscow, Idaho; John J. "Mike" McKetta III and Sallie Martin Sharp of Austin; and R. A. "Randy" and Terry Monroe McKetta of Lakeway, Texas; grandchildren Isla McKetta and Clayton Cusak of Seattle; Elisabeth Sharp McKetta and James Stead of Boise, Idaho; Tosh McKetta and Suzanne Brant McKetta of Montrose, Colorado; Mary Elliott McKetta and Manning Kalish of Washington D.C.; John Robert "Robby" McKetta and Lauren Kaplan McKetta of Richmond, Virginia; Jeannie McKetta of Austin; Sarah McKetta of New York City; John J. McKetta IV and Michele Brito of Los Angeles; and Matt McKetta of Moscow, Idaho; and great grandchildren Remy Lucas Cusak McKetta of Seattle; Snowden McKetta Stead and Olson McKetta Stead of Boise, Idaho; Ralph Sharp Kalish, John Lyons Kalish, and Helen Schield Kalish of Washington D.C.; Robert Emmett McKetta, Andrew Joseph McKetta, and Mack Kaplan McKetta of Richmond, Virginia. Johnny is also survived by his nieces Susan Smith Olson and Nina Thomas Taylor and his nephews Sky Weatherly, Merle Thomas and Charles Thomas.

A memorial service will be held at The University of Texas at Austin at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, February 9, 2019, in the Zlotnik Ballroom on Level M1 of the AT&T Conference Center, 1900 University Avenue, Austin, with a reception following from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Kindly note your attendance to the service either online here, or by calling 512-471-3263 so that all guests can be accommodated.

Memorial gifts may be directed to a charity of one's choice or to Johnny's favorite universities: The University of Texas at Austin [online at; by mail to McKetta Memorial, 200 E. Dean Keeton St., Stop C0400 Austin, TX 78712; or by phone 512-471-3263] and Trine University [online at; or by mail to One University Avenue, Angola, IN 46703]. Obituary and memorial guestbook are available online at

Recommended Local Florist

Arrangements By

Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North

3125 N Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78705
Map  | Profile

View Phone Number
Email Us