Ralph B. Peck…The Man Behind the Legend by Suzanne Davenport How can you describe a legend? What do you say about a man whose impact on a profession was so profound that it was as strong as, if not stronger than anyone else’s, whether you knew him personally or not? And now, with Dr. Peck’s passing, how do you say goodbye? Peck: the Basics The basic facts of the life of Ralph Brazelton Peck are well-documented, in both Judgment in Geotechnical Engineering, The Professional Legacy of Ralph B. Peck (Dunnicliff and Deere, 1991) and Ralph B. Peck, Educator and Engineer – The Essence of the Man (Dunnicliff and Young, 2006). Born on June 23, 1912 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, he was the only child of O.K. Peck, a railroad bridge engineer, and Ethel Peck, a former school teacher. After moving from Winnipeg to Louisville, and then to Detroit, the family finally settled in Denver in 1923. Strongly influenced by his father, Peck was always interested in engineering. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. Graduating with a degree of Civil Engineer in 1934, Peck was awarded a three-year fellowship for graduate work at RPI that led to a Doctorate of Civil Engineering in 1937. He developed an interest in geology during his graduate work, although he was not particularly interested in soil mechanics at the time. In 1938, he attended Harvard to study soil mechanics in preparation for a teaching position at the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago. While at Harvard, Peck learned the new discipline of soil mechanics while studying under Arthur Casagrande. A Chance Meeting Karl Terzaghi, the founder of our profession, had recently emigrated from France, and gave a few lectures at Harvard while working on the manuscript for Theoretical Soil Mechanics. Being in the right place at the right time, Terzaghi chose Peck to assist with a consulting job on the initial subway system for the City of Chicago. So began a rewarding personal and professional relationship between them. Peck began his long affiliation with the University of Illinois in 1940, giving biweekly lectures on soils and foundations. He continued to lecture while beginning his private consulting practice in 1941 and maintained his relationship with Terzaghi. In 1942, the two agreed to collaborate on a textbook which eventually became Soil Mechanics in Engineering Practice. Making Soil Mechanics Useable In December 1942, Peck accepted a position as a research assistant professor in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Illinois – Champaign-Urbana. He wanted to make soil mechanics useable for practicing engineers through research based on field problems and field observation. For the next 30 years, he taught more than 5000 students and directed nearly 40 Ph.D. dissertations while developing a successful international private practice. During his career, which spanned more than 60 years, he authored over 250 publications, including papers on such topics as the teaching of soil mechanics, the history of the geotechnical profession, the advantages and limitations of the observational method, the role of judgment in earth dam engineering, the collection and use of data, and one of the most influential textbooks in geotechnical engineering, Soil Mechanics in Engineering Practice. A very short list of the numerous awards that Dr. Peck, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, received includes: Norman Medal (ASCE, 1944), Karl Terzaghi Award (ASCE, 1969), The National Society of Professional Engineers Award (1972), Outstanding Civilian Service Medal of the U.S. Army (1973), National Medal of Science (1975), University of Illinois Alumni Award (1978), Distinguished Service Award of the Deep Foundations Institute (1984), The John Fritz Medal of ASCE, ASME, AIMME, AIChE, and IEEE (1988), The Award of Merit, Consulting Engineers Council (1988), Canadian Geotechnical Society’s Special Award (2002), and John F. Parmer Award (Structural Engineer’s Association of Illinois, 2004). So, what do you say about a man who, never trying to impress anyone, impressed everyone? How do you pay tribute to a 95-year old icon whose teaching and wisdom influenced an entire profession? You ask others to help you. “You Call Me Ralph” I have known Dr. Ralph Peck for 31 years. The last several years, he and I have met for lunch, attended the monthly Albuquerque Geotechnical Group meeting, and after the meeting we sat in his office, played with his poodle Tammy, and shared stories for hours. We had a great time remembering our old friends and sharing recollections of geo- projects. Dr. Peck's advice to engineers to get out in the field, study the ground “close-up,” and learn the means and methods of builders, is well known. Possibly not so well known was his emphasis on clear, concise thinking and writing. He insisted that writing and use of the proper "words" was very important to engineering. He told me he learned this from his father O.K. Peck and from Karl Terzaghi. One day I told Dr. Peck about Dr. Robert I. White, the president of Kent State University, whom I met while an undergraduate student. In the spring and summer of 1965, I was the part-time janitor who cleaned his office and emptied his wastebaskets. President White used what I called "big words" in his speech and his memos to staff. He insisted that we must rise to his level of vocabulary and use the precise words required. I always addressed him as “President White.” After several months of morning encounters, he told me that we were friends and that I didn't have to call him “President White” anymore. After a pause, and wondering if I should call him “Bob,” he told me that I could call him “Dr. White!” Dr. Peck laughed at this concession to correctness, then said, “John that's why I like you so much…. you call me Ralph.” In my opinion, Ralph Peck was one of the greatest Civil Engineers of all time. He was my friend. I miss you Ralph. John C. Lommler, Ph.D., P.E. A Latin Lover? Dr. Peck was legendary in his ability to write succinctly with perfect grammar and spelling. He was also legendary in his detailed constructive review of the many papers his students and staff sent his way. Over a period of many years, I was responsible for a major research project on tunnel linings, so I had the opportunity to write many research reports for his review. Not only did I learn about technical issues from Dr. Peck, but I learned much about good English grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. In one of my sessions with him, he questioned the spelling of an unusual word describing a special technical process. Dr. Peck gave me the Latin word for a related process and asked me to re-check the spelling in English. Of course, the sources that I had been using for the spelling were incorrect and Dr. Peck’s practical application of the Latin language in everyday life led me to the correct spelling. Harvey Parker, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE Peck the Teacher: A Commanding Presence Pursuing a BS in Civil Engineering from Illinois (1974) and looking for an interesting geotechnical course for spring semester, I found CE 484, Case Histories. Still a senior undergraduate, I needed department approval to take this class. Professor Ireland, who co-taught the course with Professor Peck, granted my approval and I soon became very “aware” of the reputation and stature of these two great instructors. I was awe-struck, not just by the opportunity and the subject matter, but also by the sudden realization that I was the only undergraduate in a class of about 20 Ph.D. and M.S. candidates! I remember well one particular class session. We were nearing completion on our first case study, which had been presented by Dr. Ireland. As we were finishing discussion, Professor Peck walked in and stood ... patiently waiting to begin presentation of his case history. The “buzz” that had been almost palpable prior to Dr. Peck's arrival ceased abruptly when he entered the room. Literally, you could have heard a pin drop. With no one uttering another word, Ireland left and Peck began his case history as only he could. Little did I know then that this watershed moment, which would mark the end of Dr. Peck's classroom teaching, would be the beginning of my career as a geotechnical engineer. Mike Lewis, P.E., F.ASCE A Master Lecturer Dr Peck was my teacher at the University of Illinois beginning in September 1953. He made Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering “come alive.” He was the master of geotechnical lecturers, as he aimed to teach at least one new idea to his students in every lecture. He was self-effacing and readily gave out accolades when introducing his contemporaries in the profession, (i.e., Karl Terzaghi, Arthur Casagrande, Laurits Bjerrum, A.W. Skempton, Stan Wilson, and others), to his graduate student classes ( which I was privileged to be a part of). I shall never forget his advice during my Ph.D. committee oral thesis defense, “Ray, you must not let statistics override your engineering judgment.” Finally, during my last trip with him through the Mt. Baker Ridge tunnel in Seattle (for which he was a consultant), he somewhat wistfully said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they did not install the false lining so the public could enjoy the real structure.” We shall miss him. Ray Miller, Ph.D., UIUC, 1965 The Best Instructor I had joined UIUC for my graduate work in the fall of 1959. My dream was to work with Professor Peck, and I was happy that he accepted me without question. He was a human being of Godly qualities, in addition to being the best instructor. I have adopted the sermon from one of his classes, which has been my guiding principle throughout my career: “One year’s experience repeated over thirty years does not constitute thirty years’ experience.” He was very fond of our Case Histories Conferences, and we were lucky to have him present keynote lectures to all these conferences (1984-2004). I like to describe Ralph in this way: Soil mechanics and its laws lay hid in night; God said, “Let Ralph be,” and there was light. Shamsher Prakash, Ph.D., F.ASCE A Loyal Professor Studying at the University of Illinois, I was fortunate to meet with Dr. Ralph Peck and attend some of his very interesting lectures. The last time I met him was at the Geo- Denver 2007 Conference. I was very excited when he attended the session where I was presenting two papers. Abouzar Sadrekarimi Peck the Mentor: Keep It Simple I believe the year was 1985. I was a young professor at Texas A&M University and was excited to have been invited to speak in Albuquerque about some of my pressuremeter work. When checking the program, I saw that Professor Peck was on it as well. My luck increased when I found myself sitting next to Ralph Peck at lunch. I asked a number of geotechnical questions, which he patiently addressed. One of them was related to the famous three charts to estimate the size of spread footings on sand. As you recall, these charts give the allowable pressure for 1-in. settlement as a function of footing width for different SPT blow counts. Each chart refers to a different relative embedment depth. As background, I always tell my students to leave the data points on the design charts when they propose the design curves so that the engineer can get a sense of the scatter associated with the design curves. I had not seen the data points associated with these three simple spread footing design charts so I asked, “Dr. Peck, where are the data points associated with these charts?” He looked at me with a grin and said “Can we talk about something else?” I smiled politely but still wondered. Fortunately he added, “You know it was the early days; Terzaghi and I did not have much data but we had to do something. We had some observations on small buildings with basements but that was it. So, we drafted this simple solution merging bearing capacity and settlement, published it, and the next thing we knew, people were using it. That's just the way it went.” So, I went back to my students with one more of Peck's great lessons which I interpreted to say: if you want something to be used by the profession, you have to make it both useful and simple. I did add to my students that they still should leave the data points on the design charts. Jean-Louis Briaud, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE The Ten-Minute Walk That Changed My Life In 1965, walking out of a conference hall in Montreal, I saw Professor Peck walking away on the sidewalk. I rushed a little to catch up with him, only hoping to have a casual conversation. I told him I just met Dr. Bengt Broms and expressed my wish to spend one year at the Swedish Geotechnical Institute, of which Dr. Broms was the director. Surprisingly, Dr. Peck not only indicated his approval that I took the initiative, but also added that Terzaghi had started a field consolidation study in 1946. He suggested the study would probably require a follow up, which could be my thesis subject. After a crash course in Swedish, I found myself in Sweden in 1966. As the result of the Swedish Institutes’ fine tradition of record keeping, the data were voluminous and overwhelming. At Ralph Peck’s instigation, Dr. Bjerrum of NGI came to my rescue. I went to Oslo several times to receive his inspiring and critical input. Retuning to the U. S. in 1967, I continued my thesis work while keeping a full time job. Dr. Peck often gave his Saturday time to help me in my thesis work. He guided me ever so gently with his impressive clarity. Each time I saw him, I came away with a greater realization of the reasons why he earned the reputation as the most persuasive person among my colleagues who worked with him. Dr. Peck’s keen insight and his art of plain talk has been a model that I have tried to follow all my life. Y. C. Gene Chang, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE Always Have a Simple Backup Dr. Peck officiated a Symposium on Downdrag on Piles at MIT in the early 1970s. I was helping a fellow graduate research assistant, Sam, with his research project. An excavation was made below an abandoned pile-supported bridge abutment known to have downdrag on the steel H-piles. We cut a 2-in. section from one pile and measured the rebound under several scenarios. Professionals in the field made predictions on the movement under the scenarios and presented their predictions at the symposium. Dr. Peck observed the pile response and validated the movement. We installed three systems to measure pile movement - dial gauges, a Vernier caliper, and an engineer’s level. We took our initial readings, and as I prepared to cut the 2-in. section from the pile, Dr. Peck reviewed our measurement systems and then placed a pencil mark above and below the section to be cut and recorded the distance between pencil marks. Always the practical engineer, he commented that you should have a simple backup means to verify field measurements. Kenneth L. Recker, P.E. A Gracious Man: Always Accessible Dr. R.B. Peck, with whom I shared a sincere friendship, was an assiduous attendant at the meetings with Latin-American geotechnical specialists. We were lucky to meet and discuss with Dr. Peck on two opportunities during the Pan-American Conferences which are carried out at 20-year intervals. Arnaldo Carrillo-Gil, Dr. Eng., P.E., F.ASCE A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity The Peck Library at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) was opened in May 2000 by Ralph B. Peck. When this was announced, we decided it would be appropriate to mark the occasion with a publication about him. A pleasant part of this effort was a visit to Ralph’s home in Albuquerque to interview him and collect reference material. We spent a week diving into his comprehensive files, an undertaking which was truly a once- in-a-lifetime experience. Lectures, publications, diaries, and photos were all easily accessed, including more than 1000 files of consulting projects with names that varied from Campbell Soup to Nuclear Craters. When we ran into problems or had questions, Ralph was prepared to solve them and keep us on the right track. His never-failing memory and clearness in formulation reminded us of the happy days as his students at the University of Illinois. The result of our effort was the publication: Ralph B. Peck, Engineer, Educator, A Man of Judgement (Pub. 207, Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, 2000), which can be viewed/downloaded at www.ngi.no. Elmo DiBiagio and Kaare Flaate, Ph.D. The “Deprovincialization” of Mel Esrig and Laurie Kennedy It was 1959 when Ralph Peck, D.J.L. (Laurie) Kennedy and I traveled by train from Champaign, IL to Tulsa, OK for a meeting with Creole Oil Company on the subsidence problems resulting from oil extraction in Lake Maricaibo, Venezuela. Laurie, a structural engineer and later a professor at the University of Toronto, was doing his Ph.D. research on the collapse of oil well casings as the ground subsided. My research was on the consolidation of heavily-overconsolidated shales when subjected to increases in effective stress associated with oil extraction. A several-hour layover in St. Louis between trains was followed by dinner on the train as we rode on to Tulsa. The time in St. Louis was spent on a Ralph Peck-guided tour of the Eades Bridge and several other bridges, complete with a history of their construction and the place of the bridges and of St. Louis in the Civil War and the “opening” of the West. As we sat down to dinner, Laurie admitted that he had never had a Manhattan cocktail and I, much to my embarrassment, admitted that I had never eaten pumpkin pie. That set Dr. Peck on a mission of deprovincialization. We all had cocktails. Laurie had his Manhattan, and I was treated to pumpkin pie for dessert. Ralph Peck was never one to miss an opportunity to teach his students. Melvin I. Esrig, Ph.D., P.E. The Chocoholic Ralph Peck was a human being just like you and me! And like most of us, he loved food. He was a chocolate lover: “If it is not chocolate, it is not dessert!” was his standard reply at dessert time. Ralph would sometimes have popcorn for lunch; I had never heard of that before! He did love the small Norwegian shrimp as long as he did not have to shell them! Ralph on the other hand did not think much of the Norwegian brown cheese, nor the cloudberries which we cherish so much (and sell and buy at the price of gold). I did manage to slip a few of them to him mixed up with a lot of whipped cream! Maybe Ralph’s most important contribution, however, is teaching the Norwegians about peanut-butter sandwiches with lettuce. We were hesitant, but having tasted it, we found it surprisingly fresh and good, and healthier. Today, every now and then you will find an island of people in Norway eating peanut butter and lettuce sandwiches. Ralph legacy lives in Norway not only though his engineering contributions, but also in the culinary front! Suzanne Lacasse, D.Sc., P.E., F.ASCE They Always Treated Him Like Family As a new engineering graduate in 1993, I remember working on a landslide litigation project in east Oahu, where Ralph Peck was deposed. His deposition was very short, stating basically that his opinion from a 1950s report had not changed over four decades. I later met him in 2004 at the Geo-Trans Conference, after observing him sitting on the front row taking notes in breakout sessions. Upon asking him about the landslide, he recalled that his opinions weren't always favored by the City of Honolulu, but they always treated him like family. Such was his endearing and inspiring nature. Mathew Francis, P.E. Thank You Ralph Dr. Ralph Peck was a huge influence on my career, especially during the past 14 years. Although I was not one of Ralph’s students, his prolific technical publications, conference lectures, and our many personal discussions impacted the direction and substance of my professional work. It is difficult now to select a single conversation or lecture, but a few special memories come to mind: Most of a day spent together attending sessions at Geo-Logan in 1997 when he told me about his recent interesting site visit to Soldier Creek Dam in Utah and also discussed unsaturated soil mechanics with amazing insight and perspective, even though it was not one of his specialties, Box lunches on the lawn at Univ.of Illinois in 1999, His powerful presentation at the USSD 2001 meeting in Denver, where he gave me the photograph of himself that now hangs on my office wall, and The breakfast with Ralph, Nancy and Allen Young, and Suzanne Lacasse in my room at Vail, CO in June 2007 when we discussed the book “Ralph B. Peck, Educator and Engineer.” For the profound and positive influence that you had on my professional career and on those of so many others, “Thank You, Ralph.” Garry H. Gregory, Ph.D., P.E. Always Ready to Listen and Learn Dr. Peck worked for some 40 years as an expert consultant on hydro projects in Quebec. In particular, he worked on the La Grande Project in Northern Quebec for the last 30 years. There are many incidents showing his kindness, warmth, and keen interest in advancing knowledge in his profession which come to mind when thinking of Dr. Peck over those years. He took time from his busy schedule to give talks to the geotechnical groups in Montreal and elsewhere and was always ready to listen and learn. Filters in earth fill dams and dikes were a hot topic in the 1970s during the construction of the La Grande Project. Filter testing was done on the project to ensure that the filter criteria used at the time was adequate because leakage had occurred on other projects and the supposed loss of filter material was thought to be the cause. Also, the permeability of the filters was being questioned because piezometric levels in the filters were higher than expected during reservoir filling. All kinds of theories were being put forward to explain the high piezometric levels; however, a young engineer at Hydro Quebec had his own idea. He explained that the high levels could be due to air entrapment in the filters and that once the air was expelled from the filters, piezometric levels would become normal. At the time, this was a novel idea and many in the profession, as well as many of the young engineer’s co-workers, didn’t think much of it, to say the least. Dr. Peck was asked if he would like to discuss the idea with the engineer and a meeting was arranged between them at the James Bay Headquarters. Dr. Peck had just gotten back to Montreal after spending some ten grueling days on the La Grande project, but still took the time to listen to the idea. After a few hours of patient back and forth discussion, Dr. Peck thought that the idea had much merit and encouraged the young engineer to pursue his work. This was the first bit of encouragement that the engineer had received in some time and he left the meeting full of renewed energy. This small incident is only one of many that occurred over the years that illustrate the type of man Dr. Peck was. He was kind, considerate, a professor, ever ready to listen and learn and a professional, in every sense of the word. Jerry Levay Choosing to Help a New Engineer A few years after graduating as a geotechnical engineer, I was sent to a site in Okinawa to conduct field explorations for an offshore airfield adjacent to a Marine base. After returning, I was asked to present a talk about this project to the Chicago Engineers Club luncheon meeting. I initially refused, never having given a talk to a group of engineers. However, after being told that the luncheon group was not geotechnical engineers, I reluctantly agreed. Much to my surprise, Ralph Peck was in Chicago the day of the talk and attended the luncheon. My confidence sank to a low level, but somehow I was able to stumble through the presentation. Afterwards, Ralph came to the speaker stand, shook my hand, and told me how much he enjoyed the presentation. My confidence hit a new high and I never forgot this incident. It also left me with the knowledge that Ralph, being the real gentleman, could have criticized much of what I presented, but instead chose to help a new engineer. Robert G. Lukas, P.E. “He Was Good Company” I didn't know Dr. Peck well, although I'd spoken with him briefly on many occasions over the years. I recall an extended conversation during a reception at Geo-Support 2004 in Orland, FL when he reminded me that he had graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (where I attended graduate school) - we tend to associate him with Terzaghi and Harvard - and we shared some stories about RPI. What always impressed me most about Dr. Peck was his accessibility. Here he was, a world-famous and highly-regarded engineer, the icon of geo-engineering, but he was more than willing to engage with anyone, never the least bit aloof. In a world impressed with complex analyses, Dr. Peck was the voice of pragmatism and practicality, a nice counterpoint to his academic genius. Plus, he had a sense of humor, with a keen wit. He was good company. We're all richer for having had him in our profession. Jay Padgett, P.E., F.ASCE A Regular Guy: Ralph at the Podium - Always the Master of the Situation The highlight of the 19th Central Pennsylvania Geotechnical Conference program in Hershey, PA, May 2002, was “Dinner with Dr. Ralph B. Peck: Geotechnics - Foundations for the Rion Bridge, Greece.” The very large banquet room was arranged so that the head table and speaker were located on the opposite side of the room from the projection screen where Dr. Peck’s meticulously-prepared slides were to be shown. As he began his talk, it rapidly became apparent that he could neither see the photos and illustrations in any detail, nor could they be managed using the remote control available to him. I was sitting across the room, close to both the projector and screen and was in a position to take over the job of advancing the slides at the appropriate time, and Ralph readily accepted my offer to do so. His presentation then moved forward as smooth as silk. His knowledge of the details and the points to be made was so complete that it was not necessary for him to see them on the screen. His presentation was so clear and the flow so logical that it was unnecessary for him to say “Next slide, please.” I always knew when it was time to move forward. It was an honor to be his assistant. Jim Mitchell, Ph.D., P.E., Hon.M.ASCE “Only He Spelled It „DAM‟” My great-grandfather was a circuit-riding preacher and held revival meetings in the Dakotas in the late 1800s and early 1900s. My grandparents were teetotalers and would not even allow any kind of card-playing in the house. As a result, Dad adhered to the moral tenants practiced by his family. He had his first taste of alcohol when he was in his 40’s on a consulting job and had to cross a river in the cold driving rain. Being thoroughly frozen upon his return to town, he went to the bar with the rest of his colleagues – a first! As most people know, Dad favored the occasional Canadian Club and ginger ale in his later years. Dad was never known to swear – at work, on the job, or at home. Only once have I heard Dad come close to using an expletive deleted. Several years ago, I became severely stressed out by a mutual acquaintance. At one particularly trying time, Dad stated, “ ____ _________can go to hell.” I was quite startled, to put it mildly, and knew Dad was really distressed about the situation. I was relating this particular instance to a colleague of Dad’s who had called to express his condolences after Dad died. He said, “Oh, but I have heard your father use a swear word a lot. He was always saying damn - only he spelled it DAM.” That is about as close as Dad ever got to swearing. Nancy Peck Young Final Thought So how can you describe a legend? Hopefully these personal accounts in some small way help answer an unanswerable question. Thank you to all those who contributed your thoughts, memories, and photographs. Most importantly, thank you to Dr. Peck, for all that you brought and meant to us. You are and will be missed.