The Wesleyan Argus | Remembering Mike Lynch: Physical Plant HVAC Mechanic Passes Away After 34 Years at the University

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Mike Lynch, HVAC Mechanic and beloved member of the University’s Physical Plant team, passed away in early October, just before celebrating his 35th  year of working at Wesleyan. Lynch is survived by his brother, David. 

When asked about Lynch and his contributions to Physical Plant, his colleagues emphasized his kindness and generosity as well as his sense of humor. 

Phil Cotharin, a fellow HVAC mechanic, has been Lynch’s officemate and partner since beginning his 31-year career at the University. 

“Just know that he was always there to make the fun funnier,” Cotharin said. “And [he was a] very reliable, honest guy. He never told a lie or a fib. He was one of the nicest, most outgoing, giving individuals. That’s one thing about him; you could trust him. He would never pull any punches or pull any wool over your eyes.”

Physical Plant workers also remember Lynch as an avid fan of the Mets and the Giants. HVAC Mechanic Nick Zinn, who is relatively new to the Physical Plant team, said that he and Lynch bonded over their shared sports affiliations. 

“We talked baseball every day, talked about fun things every day,” Zinn said. “I’m a Mets fan with him, so I feel his pain. He would vent to me almost every day. That was mine and his bond. We wanted to go to a game, but we never made it to a game.” 

For HVAC Mechanic David Malone, a Red Sox fan himself, conversations about sports with Lynch went a little bit differently. 

“At the beginning of every season, I’d tell him, ‘the Mets look good this season; it’s looking like a good year,’ and it was always funny ’cause halfway through the year they’d start to tank and start going downhill, so midway through the year we’d just be laughing,” Malone said. “He would say to me, ‘David, the Mets, not looking too good.’ We would have laughs about that.” 

Director of Physical Plant Operations Mike Conte shared that Lynch had a true love of the beach. 

“He and I and a few others spent many memorable weekends at Misquamicut Beach, Rhode Island when we were in our 20s,” Conte wrote in an email to the Argus. “His mom and dad owned a cottage there.”

HVAC Mechanic Pete McGurgan also noted that Lynch had an extraordinary talent for remembering numbers and facts. 

“He had an uncanny knack with his memory,” McGurgan said. “You’d be talking about a movie, he’d remember the actors, the actresses, the statistics for a sports team, stuff that he would remember it’s like, ‘get out of here.’” 

Cotharin added that Lynch’s impressive memory was especially helpful when it came to room numbers and locations around campus. Earlier in their careers, Lynch and Cotharin worked together closely in upgrading buildings around campus, from pneumatic controls to computerized climate control and building automation. Cotharin recalled fondly the many trips that he took with Lynch to various universities to learn about automated building controls and to bring the technology back to the University. 

Lynch’s years of experience with the University’s HVAC systems have had a huge impact on the team, according to McGurgan.  

“When you’ve had somebody who’s been here for even five or six years, the institutional knowledge they have . . . they just know where everything is; they can walk into a place and go, ‘I know what’s going on already’ instead of having to start from scratch,” McGurgan said. “That’s so valuable. You can’t replace it.”

Cotharin pointed out the concrete value of this experience. 

“You can’t train that. It’s the difference of draining a building of all the heat, draining the building of all the cooling, displacing the students with no creature comfort,” Cotharin said. “That’s very valuable.”

With the years of experience and knowledge that he brought to the table, newer members of the HVAC team said that Lynch was a great mentor to them in their early days with Physical Plant.  

“Mike taught me a lot of stuff when I first started here five years ago,” Malone said. “Mike was always there to help me when I first started here with finding my way around and finding my way through different buildings that he might know about.” 

Since Lynch’s death, the HVAC mechanics have been working hard to fill the space that he has left behind. 

“We’re coming in every day and trying to play catch-up,” Cotharin said. “And now with all the students back after the year of COVID, from everything being dormant and not running, and going back to full operation, we’ve got a whole new slew of to-do lists around here and not enough people. And Mike was one of those people we needed.”

Zinn added that the staff’s busy work schedules have made it hard to properly grieve for Lynch. 

“We haven’t really had time to grieve or anything,” Zinn said. “We were working that same day, trying to fight through that. It’s hard to process.”

Lynch’s station in the HVAC office is still intact, with his old family pictures, signs, and Mets cap on display. Cotharin said that he is not planning on changing the setup of the workstation anytime soon. To him, Lynch was like family. 

“It’s like being married,” Cotharin said. “We work together 40, 50 hours a week for 25, 30 years and then, overnight, you’re gone? At 56 years old, my age? We were born 9 days apart.” 

Physical Plant staff said that they are still waiting to hear whether there will be funeral services for Lynch. In the meantime, they are missing and remembering his presence, his kindness, and his sense of humor. 

 
Emma Smith can be reached at elsmith@wesleyan.edu.