In Memory of




Obituary for Don Richard Michael

Michael, Don R.

Age 73 of Stow, formerly of Wellesley, died peacefully at home in the company of his beloved wife and daughters on Sunday, September 27th, 2020.

Born in Springfield, he was the son of Max and Leona (Philleson) Michael. He excelled academically and was the recipient of many merit scholarships. Don earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Tufts University, an MS in Environmental Engineering from Northeastern University, and an MBA from Babson College. Enthusiastic about gathering people together, he helped organize both the Technical High School and Tufts University reunions for many years.

Don served five years as a pilot and flight instructor in the US Navy. He always said the greatest ride of his life was a catapult shot off the bow of an aircraft carrier. After concluding his service, he continued flying privately with good friends.

He worked as an environmental engineer for four decades, providing consulting services to energy-related clients worldwide. He managed environmental analysis, site selection, permitting, engineering and testing of more than 150 power projects. He evaluated energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for large commercial and industrial development projects and directed studies in the water treatment, wastewater, hydrothermal, hydrologic, noise control and air quality disciplines.

Don loved to travel. His work took him to far-off places, including Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Japan and Bangladesh. He also treasured the chance to travel with his family and friends, meticulously planning every step of the itinerary for their enjoyment. He also savored years of camping with his family in the Berkshires, and organized many fishing and hiking trips with old friends.

An avid woodworker and furniture maker, Don referred to himself as the “perpetual novice.” He especially loved eighteenth-century American furniture, almost as much as he loved acquiring new tools. He was a longtime member of the Eastern Massachusetts Guild of Woodworkers, serving on the Executive Board as Vice President and leading the committee responsible for speaker presentations. Along with bringing his management expertise to the Executive Board, Don led the Guild’s Furniture Interest Group for eight years and started a workshop group that met weekly to collaborate on projects. Don was also a member of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers and the Guild of New Hampshire Woodworkers.

Woodworking can be a solitary avocation. Don found a way to make it a social gathering that was relished by everyone involved. Guild members and friends looked forward to his articles and emails describing both his successes and “new design opportunities.” His great sense of humor provided a vehicle for sharing his knowledge and love of woodworking.

An inveterate teacher, Don taught his daughters how to mow the lawn, trim the hedges, snowblow, hang drywall, bait a hook, and drive a stick shift. He loved Formula One Grand Prix and vintage car racing. Consequently, he drove too fast, rounding exit ramps like he was on the track, coaching his family to “leave room for drift.”

Yet he was also content to slow down and sit quietly by the fire with his family and a dog. His life was enriched tremendously by the loyal companionship of two dachshunds, one boxer, four Boston terriers and a viszla.

Don was an “engineer’s engineer,” a perfectionist with little patience for inefficiency. He served as his own general contractor for home renovations, designed and created a craft room for his wife, and in numerous projects, expressed his love through meticulous planning and research. He was our own in-house Consumer Reports.

A committed DIY-er, Don saw no reason to pay for something he knew he could do better himself. Yet he was generous and quick to show up for his friends, neighbors and even strangers with his hammer, chainsaw or hauling trailer. To his friends and family, he was the go-to guide for hashing through difficult decisions or for help in a crisis. He welcomed friends to share the family home during tough times without question. You knew where you stood with Don. If he thought you were wrong he would tell you so, and, if he thought you were right, he would support you with everything he had.

Don and Catherine were fortunate enough to lovingly gather into their family over 135 foreign exchange students from five of the seven continents. As a surrogate dad, Don helped them to navigate a new culture. He was particularly proud of his adopted family, including: son Dr. Ruben Azocar and his family, daughters Cora Thompson and Kendra Cestone, grandkids Taedyn and Tucker, and many, many treasured friends.

Positive and brave, Don fought recurring bouts of lymphoma for 36 years with resiliency and determination. His doctors respected and admired him for his active involvement in his own care. Knowing the value of the support of friends and family, he honestly and openly kept them abreast of his difficult journey. In his last days, and with great effort, he insisted on dictating a final email expressing his gratitude for their steadfast love and care.

His spirit is carried on by Catherine, his beloved wife of 52 years, daughter Courtney Michael and her husband Rumel Mahmood and grandchildren Max and Leo, daughter Audrey Michael, sister Patricia Benda, and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews and in-laws.

Don was disappointed he would not be able to vote in November. Please think of him when you cast your vote for scientific truth, the defense of the environment, and the unconditional acceptance of all people.

A gathering to celebrate his life will be held at a later date. We invite you to honor Don’s memory by making a contribution to the Mass General Cancer Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital via, or to the Environmental Defense Fund at

Memorial page