William Kwang-Yeh Tao, alumnus and longtime supporter, 102

William K.-Y. Tao

William K.Y. Tao, a 1950 alumnus of the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis and a longtime supporter of the school, the university and the St. Louis area, died Tuesday, Dec. 17 in Franklin, Tennessee. He was 102.

The son of a well-known engineer, Bill, as he was known to most, came to St. Louis from China in 1947 to earn a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Washington University. From that time, he made significant contributions to the Engineering school, including establishing the university's first annual named scholarship program in 1974 for the Engineering school. Sixty-seven students have received scholarships from one of the five scholarships that Tao and his wife, Anne, established. Today, all of the university's schools have named scholarship programs.

After earning a master's degree, he became a full-time instructor in Engineering. He continued as an affiliate professor after starting his own engineering consulting business, William Tao & Associates Inc., in 1956. He also was an affiliate professor at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

Recognized internationally as a leader in engineering systems design, Tao was responsible for many innovative, energy-effective concepts and applications. He was known as an "engineer's engineer" who was always on the edge of technology in energy systems, mechanical and electrical design, according to longtime associates. His company built among the largest and most sophisticated buildings worldwide, including the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. Headquarters building in St. Louis, McDonnell Douglas Data Center, General American Life and Edison Brothers Headquarters, Anheuser-Busch, parts of St. Louis Lambert International Airport and the Gateway Arch; the Taipei World Trade Center and 85-story 85 Sky Tower in Taiwan and the 97th U.S. Army Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany and many buildings for Washington University. During his tenure heading the firm, his company completed systems designs for 45 million square feet of buildings with a construction value exceeding $5 billion, according to news reports. After his retirement in 1989, Tao continued to serve as a management advisor and building systems consultant to selected clients.

"Bill was not only a consummate engineer and successful businessman, but also a tireless and innovative supporter of Washington University and its Engineering school in particular," said Aaron Bobick, dean of the McKelvey School of Engineering and the James M. McKelvey Professor.

A trustee emeritus, Tao formerly served on the National Council for McKelvey Engineering and was its first chair in the 1980s. He also was a critical member of the WU International Advisory Council for Asia. He received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1971, an Engineering Alumni Achievement Award in 1982, the William Greenleaf Eliot Society Annual Search Award in 1990, and the Engineering Dean's Award in 1994. In addition, he received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the university in 1997. On his business trips in Asia, he often acted as unofficial liaison to university alumni.

In addition to his work as an engineer, Tao was considered among the top tennis players in the St. Louis area. He played tennis in more than 25 countries as part of a goodwill tennis program. Even in his 80s, he played tennis three times a week and was learning to play golf. He even continued playing tennis until age 95. He provided a gift to the university for the Tao Tennis Center and helped gather support to build the pavilion at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park.

Often referred to as a civic treasure, Tao served on numerous boards and committees and received many additional honors for his professional achievements, humanitarian work and community service. He supported the International Institute of St. Louis, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Saint Louis University, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Goodwill Industries, and the Missouri Historical Society. He founded the Organization of Chinese-Americans in St. Louis and established a leadership award program for St. Louis-area high-school students interested in Chinese culture who showed leadership potential. He helped chair or orchestrate fundraising efforts for the Chinese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the new building campaign for the International Institute where the IISTL created the Tao Refugee Fund in honor. He was also deeply involved with Washington University's Athletic Department.

Tao is survived by his wife, Anne; three sons: David and his wife, Mary Tao; Richard and his wife Eliot Cori Tao; Peter and his wife, Helen Lee; and grandchildren Lauren Tao Thoman and Greg Thoman; Adam Tao and Audrey Freid; Daniel Tao and Kathryn Morrison; Happy and Nick Kidwell; Naomi Tao; Matthew Tao; Meara Tao; and Chris and Will Tao; and great-grandchildren Rachel and Chloe Thoman, Anna Kidwell, Linden Tao, Violet, William and Theo Tao.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 11, 2020, in Graham Chapel on the Washington University campus. A reception will follow at the Whittemore House.

In the spirit of Tao's devotion to helping others, memorial contributions may be made to the Washington University McKelvey School of Engineering, directed toward scholarships or a donation to a scholarship of your choice in his name to benefit someone in need.


The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 140 full-time faculty, 1,387 undergraduate students, 1,448 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.