Academy Article
MAR 16, 2021

On the Passing of Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. (1925-2021)


 A Statement from Academy President David Oxtoby

Academy member Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. passed away on Monday at the age of 95. Our deepest condolences go out to his family, including Academy members Lauren Dachs, Alan Dachs, and Riley Bechtel, and to all whose lives were touched by Stephen’s leadership, generosity, and friendship.

Stephen will long be remembered for his contributions to the life of the Academy. Elected a member in 1990, he served on the Academy’s membership committees and provided major support for research projects in the areas of science, engineering, and technology and American institutions. Through his generous support, the space that bears his name at the House of the Academy has become a beloved gathering place for our global community of members, a place to recognize achievement, engage in scholarly discourse and artistic expression, and, indeed, to remember those who have left us.  We look forward to being able to gather once again in the Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. Auditorium to honor the memory of its namesake.

Stephen also provided the intellectual foundation for one of the most important initiatives in the Academy’s modern history.  By asking the fundamental question “What makes a good citizen?” he inspired the creation of the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship.  The S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation provided principal support for the Commission, and further funding amplified the reach of its final report, Our Common Purpose.  The Academy recently announced a new commitment to the implementation of the 31 recommendations in Our Common Purpose by the year 2026, the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  With Stephen’s passing, this commitment takes on even deeper meaning.

Outside the Academy, Stephen served for 30 years as the third-generation head of the Bechtel Group, a global engineering-construction business. He was awarded the National Medal of Technology for his outstanding leadership in the engineering profession, with special recognition for his contributions to the development and application of advanced management techniques to world-class industrial projects.  A generous philanthropist, Stephen established the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and provided transformational support to causes in the areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, the environment, health, and character development and citizenship.

Please join me in reflecting on Stephen’s work to build a better world – as a businessman, as a philanthropist, and as a citizen.


Sign Recognizing Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. in the Bechtel Auditorium at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in Cambridge, MA
Sign recognizing Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. in the Bechtel Auditorium at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in Cambridge, MA.





Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship

Danielle Allen, Stephen B. Heintz, and Eric P. Liu