Hampton Clay Gabler III, professor and chair of the undergraduate biomedical engineering program in biomedical engineering and mechanics in the College of Engineering, died on Jan. 11, 2021, surrounded by his loving family.

Gabler was the Samuel Herrick Professor at Virginia Tech, where he enjoyed a long, illustrious, and rewarding career.

“Clay was a dear friend, neighbor, and colleague,” said Warren Hardy, a colleague and long-time friend of Gabler. “Like many others, I benefited from his thoughtful advice with regularity. He was always willing to help, was famously devoted to his students, and was uncompromising in his work.

“Clay touched countless lives through his mentorship, scholarship, and service to our profession. His research is highly respected around the world and will continue to save lives far into the future. Despite all of his contributions, Clay will be remembered most for the endearing way he had about him and his easy sense of humor. Clay cared. We miss him terribly.”

Clay Gabler and Warren Hardy pictured with an award
Clay Gabler and Warren Hardy

Gabler received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Virginia. He went on to receive two more degrees from Princeton University – a master’s in 1994 and a Ph.D. in 1998 – both in mechanical and aerospace engineering. He joined the engineering faculty at Virginia Tech in 2005.

During his 15-year long career at Virginia Tech, Gabler created a legacy in injury biomechanics, crash safety and vehicle crashworthiness, automated vehicles, and aeronautical safety. He used crash modeling and simulation in his lab, part of the interdisciplinary research Center for Injury Biomechanics.

In 2004, at a national conference, Gabler sat next to Stefan Duma, Harry C. Wyatt Professor of Engineering and director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS). Duma was so impressed by Gabler’s research that he recruited him to Virginia Tech.

“He was a wonderful faculty member and dear friend,” said Duma. “Clay was a rare individual that was universally admired by colleagues around the world. He loved his students and was one of the best advisors I have ever seen. He was always so positive, sharp, and had a keen insight.

“He was legendary in his research accomplishments, too. We are all better for our time with him. He leaves us with the challenge to keep his memory in our hearts and minds as we move forward. We can all be better teachers and researchers by following his example.”

Photo of Hampton Clay Gabler III, professor in biomedical engineering and mechanics
Hampton Clay Gabler III

“Clay was one of the good guys,” said Rob Gourdie, professor and director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC Center for Heart and Reparative Medicine Research. “He was a wonderful colleague with a real passion for research, as well as devoted to the mentoring and teaching missions of the university. Personally, I will never forget his kindness and welcoming goodwill when I first moved to Virginia Tech.”

Gabler was an inspiring teacher, deeply admired by his students.

“Gabler was an incredibly humble man,” said Luke Riexinger, graduate student in the joint Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. “With all of his achievements and influences on vehicle safety, we often teased him about being a celebrity. Although he was a rock star in the field who everyone loved, he never saw himself among the greats. Even when he received the highest award from AAAM, he considered it not as his accomplishment alone, but he credited his students with his success. His humble wisdom will be missed by all.”

Each student that crossed paths with Gabler remembers him fondly and is changed for the better. Samantha Haus, a student mentored by Gabler for four years, said she was struck by his passion for learning and research, his curiosity to understand why and how things work, and by his genuine care for the students and his fellow faculty alike. Grace Wusk, a graduate student in the Center for Injury Biomechanics with Gabler, said that he showed by example what it means to be a good teacher, researcher, and leader.

At the root of all these qualities was his ability and genuine interest in connecting with people, his students said. Max Bareiss, graduate student in the school of biomedical engineering and sciences, said although Gabler’s research contributions are well documented, he hopes that his endless desire to see his students succeed, even long after graduation, is a coequal part of his memory. 

Photo of Hampton Clay Gabler III, professor in biomedical engineering and mechanics, standing in a yellow raincoat in front of tall, tree-covered mountains
Hampton Clay Gabler III was the Samuel Herrick Professor of Engineering at Virginia Tech, where he enjoyed a long, illustrious, and rewarding career.

Gabler received numerous awards, honors, and fellowships. He also co-authored a book that includes many landmark papers in event data recorders. Most recently, he was the Galileo Galilei visiting professor at the University of Florence for the 2019-20 academic year. “Clay was an extraordinary individual,” said Jennifer Wayne, professor and department head in biomedical engineering and mechanics. “He had a warm and welcoming personality, making a connection with everyone he met. Clay was dedicated to his research and educating students both in the laboratory and in the classroom.  He was certainly one of a kind.”

Amanda Covey started in the department the same week as Gabler, working with him for 15 years. “Dr. Gabler was not only my colleague but also someone I consider a close and respected friend,” Covey said. “From the first day I met him in 2005, he would often visit my office just to talk about current events, books, life, and so much more. I have so many fond and humorous memories while working with him. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Dr. Gabler recognizing our shared passion for working with students. He leaves behind a huge hole in many of the lives he touched, and our heart goes out to his family.”

There will not be a service at this time. His family stated they will plan a memorial sometime in the future when it is safe to have social gatherings again. If you would like to send a message to Clay Gabler's family, you can write to claygabler+memorial@gmail.com. The family also created a memorial page for him here, where links to Gabler's charities can be found.

-Written by Laura McWhinney