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Imre Molnar's lasting legacy

Thu, 03 Jan 2013

When I hear people use the words "senseless" or "tragic" to qualify death, the grammarian in me shudders. It seems they're modifying an absolute -- like saying "very unique," which by the definition of unique means one of a kind and can't be modified further. Of course, the majority of deaths are senseless and tragic, so to qualify it darkens the lily. However, when I heard of the recent passing of friend, colleague and design guru Imre Molnar, I thought it senseless and tragic.

As the story reporting his death tells you, Molnar was every bit as much a car guy as he was a design guy. That he came to Detroit and the College for Creative Studies, climbing to the post of provost, says little of the energy he brought to everything he did. He chose to leave outdoor clothing maker Patagonia as design director to pursue a career in academia; he believed he could affect greater design change through shaping future designers. That's an enormously selfless act for a man in a profession filled with ego; designers love to see their creations wrapped on wrists, draped over shoulders, slung on feet or parked in driveways of consumers everywhere. Molnar felt there was more to his professional life than that: He wanted to do more than see designs he created; he wanted to see the designs his student offspring created.

It is that kind of legacy that lives large and forever as the legacy of Imre Molnar.

Molnar was fantastically appreciative of everything around him and threw emotion into all he did, whether talking about the mundane or talking about cars. And he loved cars. I'd see him at auto shows around the world and we'd stop to chat. I'd ask him the same thing I ask other designers: Tell me what I like and why. He'd go into a thoughtful dissertation that was neither academic nor condescending, but interesting and insightful. He was witty, biting, generous and careful with his words, and when you heard them you knew they came from his heart.

I first met Molnar when he came to speak at our Autoweek Design Forum 12 years ago. As we do with every Design Forum, we invite some speakers who are allied with the auto industry and those whose passions, views and insights will be of interest to those in it. At the Design Forum, Molnar met Rick Rogers, the president of CCS, and they struck up a conversation that led to Molnar's joining one of the best design schools in the world. He never missed a Design Forum since.

This year, the Autoweek Design Forum is Jan. 17. It will be held, again, in the transportation department exhibition space at the College for Creative studies, a room that abuts the office General Motors design chief Harley Earl inhabited. The Design Forum's august faculty will speak to the topic of design for the next generation. While that can be interpreted any number of ways, it's fitting that in its most straightforward terms it was a topic dear to Molnar.

I will miss having him at the Design Forum. There's no doubt the design community will miss his charm and wit and insight and passion for creating more and better designers for the future. And there's no getting around it that to be taken from this Earth at 61 is tragic and senseless.

R.I.P. Imre.

The College for Creative Studies has announced that it will host a memorial service for Imre Molnar on Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3:00 pm. The service will take place at the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education. All who knew Imre are welcome to attend and share with his family in a remembrance of his life.

By Dutch Mandel