Dr. Gary Cowger '70 speaks at the Learning Commons groundbreaking ceremony at Kettering University.

The Kettering University community is mourning the loss of Kettering University alumnus and member of our University Board of Trustees, Dr. Gary Cowger, who passed away Feb. 17 at age 75.

Cowger graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Kettering University (formerly General Motors Institute), a Master of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978, and an Honorary Doctorate from Kettering University (Engineering) in 2007. 

He started his career at General Motors as a co-op student in 1965 and retired after 45 years with the company. He rose through the ranks to become President of GM North America before being appointed to manage all of GM’s global manufacturing operations. He took great care and pride in developing talent at GM, serving as a mentor to many, including GM’s current Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Mary Barra (‘85, EE).

Over his life, Cowger’s deep passion for Kettering University never waned; he served first on the University’s Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Advisory Board from 1994 to 1996 and then on the University’s Board of Trustees from 1999 to the present. He served as the Chair of the Board from 2009 to 2011. 

He also recently served as the chairman of the Boldly Forward Capital Campaign, which ran from 2012 to 2021. The campaign was the University’s most successful, exceeding its goal by raising $155 million to support scholarships, faculty, programs, facilities, the Learning Commons and more.

He knew the value of a Kettering education and made his first gift to the University in 1987. Over the years, he and his wife, Kay, established the Gary and Kay Cowger Endowed Scholarship Fund to support female engineering students with financial needs. Their generosity also made possible the Gary and Kay Cowger Boardroom in the Campus Center, and, most recently, the Cowger Kiva in the Learning Commons.

“Kettering is a jewel for the quality of education it gives young folks and in the whole co-op experience where you come out as a practicing engineer and not as a theoretical engineer,” Cowger said in 2014. “And you come out with a job with people knowing your capability and helping mentor your capability. That institution is well worth protecting and supporting.” 

The Kettering/GMI Alumni Association honored Cowger with its 2005 Outstanding Achievement Award, 2000 Human Relations Award and 1995 Management Achievement Award. The University also honored him with its 75th Anniversary Award in 1994.

“Gary was a very special human being with a deep love of this institution, and I will greatly miss him. I will miss his wise counsel, his insights, his wisdom and his dynamic personality,” University President Dr. Robert K. McMahan said. “I am grateful to him and to Kay for all they have done for all of us at Kettering.” 

In addition to serving on Kettering University’s Board of Trustees, Cowger served on the boards of The College of Creative Studies, Focus HOPE and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Cowger was born April 18, 1947, to parents Glen Leland and Esther (Smith) Cowger in Kansas City, Kansas. His passion for cars, higher education, and volunteer service showed throughout his life.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Kay Cowger; his son, Christopher Cowger; and four grandchildren, Alex Narvaez, Sydney Narvaez, Bretton Cowger and Bodhi Cowger. His daughter Melinda Narvaez and grandson Mark Narvaez preceded him in death.

To read the complete obituary and leave a tribute message, visit https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/legacyremembers/gary-cowger-obituary?id=47449003.