Obituary: Loren Hufstetler, engineer, businessman and philanthropist

Dr Loren Robert Hufstetler, engineer, businessman and philanthropist. Born: March 17 1933 in Utah, USA. Died: October 9 2020 in Edinburgh, aged 87

Loren Hufstetler on his Penny Farthing
Loren Hufstetler on his Penny Farthing

Philanthropist, engineer, adventurer – Loren Hufstetler never missed an opportunity in life, however challenging.

He came from intrepid stock: his forebears left Germany to work on the railroad where the Golden Spike was driven in 1869, completing America’s first transcontinental railway. His grandmother crossed the prairies in a covered wagon, aged six.

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And his father, Claude, ran away from home at 16 to fight the Mexican revolutionary, Pancho Villa.

So it was only natural that he had an affinity with the Great Outdoors, something he was able to take full advantage of as a boy, first in Utah, then in Los Angeles in Southern California, where he spent much of his life on a bicycle. Later he would favour a Penny Farthing and receive the Freedom of the City of London for services to cycling and sport.

After graduating from high school he studied mechanical engineering at LA City College and joined the aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, working in the hydraulic and pumps department on the DC range of planes.

He quickly realised the corporate life was not for him but it would take some time before he could escape to a different environment.

Always interested in the theatre, he studied at night classes at California State University for a masters in theatre arts, before going to the University of Southern California to do a PhD, writing his thesis on hydraulic stage equipment.

Just two weeks into his thesis he excused himself and took part in the BAJA race, an exhilarating Mexican off-road motorsport contest, in a dune buggy that he had built with a friend.

It seemed that adventure was in his blood – he also cycled across the Mojave desert from LA to Salt Lake City and climbed Mount Whitney three times.

Married with two children, he stuck it out at McDonnell Douglas until the 1970s. But a trip to the Edinburgh Festival as a stage manager changed the course of his life. He decided to settle in the Scottish capital and returned for good in 1978.

He married his second wife, Julie, and together they built a property business before developing Elder Homes.

Once established in the UK he took up Penny Farthing cycling after buying a bike at an auction in the 1980s.

He cycled on the machine from Land’s End to John O’Groats and to every annual meet of the International Veteran Cycle Association, including from Paris to Prague and from Edinburgh to Haarlem, Holland. He did the same each year on the London the Brighton run – until they acquired a 1904 cadillac. A model T Ford was also shipped from Southern California.

And while the couple were enjoying their life together in Edinburgh, they were also acutely aware of the suffering of children in Romanian orphanages, a scandal that had come to light in the 1990s following the fall of the Ceausescu regime.

They adopted three children and set up the Edinburgh Romanian Trust which helps with the education impoverished youngsters in rural Romania. They also fostered two other children, adding to their own blended family.

For Hufstetler, the philosophy was simple: to make a difference; to give without expecting anything in return.

And he was always a man with a plan, a project on the go, and an infectious enthusiasm that got things done. He was also single-minded, determined and with a zest for life that saw him make the most of every opportunity, travel extensively whenever he could and touch the lives of many.

His adventurous spirit was celebrated at a socially distanced drive-in memorial service, held at the family property near West Saltoun, East Lothian, where his grandchildren arrived, to a chorus of horns, in one of his vintage vehicles and his Penny Farthing featured alongside a wreath.

Predeceased by his daughter Susan, he is survived by his wife Julie, his children Dean, Samantha, Stephen, Laurentiu, Nicky and two foster children, Kadiga and Ionel.