'An Extraordinary Woman By Any Measure'

Scholarship honors the memory of an exemplary woman and engineer

“Linda has touched a lot of lives and has been incredibly active in the engineering community. She's been at the forefront of promoting women in engineering; she put together networking nights and was an invited speaker for freshman women in engineering for over 20 years.”
Jim Huff
(BSChE ’70, MSCE ’71)

Few of us forget the moment we first lay eyes on the love of our life. Jim Huff (BSChE ’70, MSCE ’71) certainly remembers.

He was a Purdue sophomore. His future wife, Linda Patton Huff (BSChE ’70), was seated on the bench they would share in their organic chemistry lab. A short time later, as if written for a scene in an old movie, a mishap nudged them toward romance.

“She spilled concentrated sulfuric acid on her nylons,” Jim says by phone, with Linda nearby. “I told her if she tried to flush it with water, she’d burn herself twice as badly.” Jim took a paper towel and wiped off the acid, followed by an ethanol rinse. He adds, jokingly, “She’s much more theoretical, and I’m more applied.” Not long after the lab accident, they went on their first date.

Jim shared that memory during a phone call from their Illinois home one week before Linda lost her battle with cancer on May 25, 2017. Despite her advanced illness, they both remained eager to live a robust life together for as long as Linda felt up to it.

“It’s therapeutic,” Jim says of staying active. “You can sit around and think about what you’re going through, or you can live.” Which is why Linda, unable to speak without pain due to her illness, was as pleased as Jim that their story could be told in IMPRINTS.

For the Huffs, a big part of living meant giving to causes they believed in, which included the Purdue engineering scholarship they recently established.

The Huffs created the $1 million Linda Patton Huff Scholarship to address a niche need. Jim says the scholarship was motivated in part by a particular student they knew whose unmet financial need prevented him from studying engineering at Purdue.

“My son’s best friend got accepted to Engineering at Purdue,” Jim says, recalling what happened 20 years ago. “His parents wouldn’t pay for his education, but they made too much for him to qualify for financial aid. Our intent was that this scholarship would help somebody like him — a student on the fence financially.” The young man ultimately opted for a history degree from an Illinois university.

Linda Huff
An Extraordinary Scholar And Engineer
The only woman in the Chemical Engineering class of 1970
Purdue Outstanding Chemical Engineer Award, 1991
Purdue Distinguished Alumna Award, 2000
Purdue Old Masters speaker, 2010
President, Huff & Huff Inc., 1979-2015

Students who receive the Huff scholarship must maintain a 2.5 GPA in Purdue Engineering to stay eligible for the full four years of the scholarship. The bar was set at that level, Jim says, because of his own experience during his first two years as a Purdue Engineering student.

“I’m a product of the city of Chicago school system and was maybe a B student in high school,” he says. “When I got down to Purdue, it took me until November before I passed an exam.” Eager to make his parents proud of him after his oldest brother had been killed in the Vietnam War, Jim threw himself into his studies. “I don’t think anybody worked harder their freshman year than I did.”

That hard work, which continued after graduation, and Linda’s dedication to her own engineering career, led to extraordinary professional success for the couple. In 1979, by then parents to a young daughter and looking forward to the birth of their second child, the Huffs pooled their extensive professional acumen to create Huff & Huff Inc. The successful environmental engineering firm was based in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Laura, their daughter, is now 40, and son Timothy is 37. After working “55-hour weeks forever,” Jim and Linda stepped down from the company several months ago when Linda’s cancer returned after a short remission. During a road trip in March, the two decided “we need to get busy,” and the scholarship is one result.

Another is Jim’s written remembrance of Linda as a senior Purdue engineering student. In it, he recounts her bravery in advocating for a room full of frustrated students in a graduate-level chemical engineering computations class. The class was having trouble understanding lectures and debugging a fledgling software program with only the help of doctoral students who had been leading the class. After a month of frustration, Linda announced to the class that she was going to Professor Wood’s office and insist he become more involved. In support, the class followed her to Wood’s office, where she did just that. He never missed another lecture and abandoned the bug-riddled software program.

Today, Jim says that Linda’s commitment to advocacy makes it particularly important that their scholarship bear her name: “Linda has touched a lot of lives and has been incredibly active in the engineering community. She’s been at the forefront of promoting women in engineering; she put together networking nights and was an invited speaker for freshman women in engineering for over 20 years.”

“She was intelligent, but she also was just very kind. She was an extraordinary woman — by any measure.”

To help support the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, contact Kelly Busch, senior director of development, at 765-494-0039 or kvbusch@prf.org.