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Obituary Stories

Westinghouse engineer had passion for science

Stephen Huba
| Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Orson “Joe” Wallace of Pleasant Hills
Orson “Joe” Wallace of Pleasant Hills

Although he had an affinity for music, Joe Wallace pursued a career in science that contributed to the country's development of the first nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.

“He wrote computer programs that were used to design and evaluate designs for shielding around the nuclear reactors on those vessels,” said his son, Alan Wallace. “We're talking about the days of room-sized mainframes and huge stacks of punch cards.”

Mr. Wallace rose in the ranks of the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, then a division of Westinghouse Electric Corp., as far as he could without going into management.

“He just wanted to do the scientific stuff,” his son said.

Orson “Joe” Wallace, of Pleasant Hills, died Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Family Hospice in Mt. Lebanon. He was 86.

Born in Durango, Colo., on Oct. 23, 1931, he was the son of the late Joseph and Zelma (Dalton) Wallace. He graduated from Durango High School in 1949.

Mr. Wallace grew up on his family's cattle ranch in Dur­ango. Because he played the clarinet, he started attending Western State College of Colorado, in Gunnison, as a music major. He later switched majors and got a bachelor's degree in math in 1953.

He moved to Pennsylvania to pursue graduate studies in math at the University of Pittsburgh, from where he graduated in 1961.

Mr. Wallace started his career at Westinghouse as an electrical engineer in East Pittsburgh, then moved to the Westinghouse Bettis Division in West Mifflin, where he required a security clearance and dealt with classified information.

“There were guards, gates and fences,” Alan Wallace said. “The whole time he worked there, the only time I saw the inside of Bettis was during a family day in 1974.”

Mr. Wallace also wrote papers for scientific journals under the name O.J. Wallace. “It was pretty esoteric stuff,” his son said.

Retiring with the title of principal scientist in the late 1990s, Mr. Wallace stayed active in his church, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Pleasant Hills, where he played the clarinet, and with reading.

“He passed on to me a love of science fiction and fantasy, which he picked up on the ranch because it was so remote,” his son said. “He was reading Astounding magazine and other pulp science fiction in the 1940s and '50s, when Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov were just getting their start.”

Mr. Wallace was preceded in death by his wife, Jean Dolores (Fitpold) Wallace. He is survived by his son, Alan J. Wallace.

Friends may call from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Griffith Funeral Home, 5636 Brownsville Road, South Park Township. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 400 Old Clairton Road, Pleasant Hills. He will be buried in Durango.

Memorial contributions may be made to Family Hospice and Palliative Care, Development Department, 50 Moffett St., Pittsburgh, PA 15243.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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