Remembering alumnus, former faculty member James Wallace (1938-2016)

Friday, May 20, 2016
Alumnus and former faculty member Jim Wallace (1938-2016)
Jim Wallace, an alumnus and former faculty member in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, died May 11. (Photo: A.S. Turner & Sons Funeral Home)

Former students and colleagues are celebrating James R. Wallace’s life this week after news reached the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering community that he died May 11. He was 77 years old.

They recalled a leader in the Atlanta engineering community, a tough and talented educator, and a warm, driven man.

“Jim was a great friend, mentor, and outstanding human being. His Georgia Tech family will miss him,” said Reginald DesRoches, professor and Karen and John Huff School Chair.

Wallace graduated from Tech with his bachelor’s in civil engineering in 1961 and with his master’s in 1962. He earned his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966 and immediately came back to Georgia Tech, where he taught for more than a decade from the late 1960s through the ‘70s.

He eventually left his faculty position to become a full-time consultant with what was then the Law Engineering Testing Company. Ray Lawing, MSCE 1977, knew Wallace in both settings, first as a graduate student and later as a colleague and carpool companion.

In fact, it was a meeting with Wallace that prompted Lawing to move to Atlanta and attend Georgia Tech.

“Dr. Wallace was a fantastic professor. He challenged us from day one and did not let up,” Lawing noted in remarks he prepared for Wallace’s funeral May 21. “Dr. Wallace taught us technical aspects of water resources, but more importantly, he taught us how to break problems down so we could craft great solutions.”

Lawing eventually left Law Engineering and moved to Nashville. But he said it was Wallace who helped bring him back to the firm a decade later.

“It was as if I had never left his side,” Lawing said.

He also recalled touring the Mason Building with Wallace in 2013 after extensive renovations to the facility.

“We talked with faculty members and students, and it was incredible to see the gleam in his eyes as he marveled at the changes to the building where he both studied and taught,” Lawing said. “I even got chills as we stopped by the office he had during his teaching career. This short time together meant so very to me as it further knitted our long relationship.”

John Koon became acquainted with Wallace not as a student or colleague, but as a competitor. Yet Koon said that didn’t diminish his respect for the engineer.

“While I never worked with Jim — we worked with competing firms — I got to know him as a member of the Atlanta engineering community. He was respected by everyone who knew him and had the opportunity to work with him,” said Koon, now a professor of the practice in the School.

“The Institute was honored to have him as an alumnus and honored to have him as a professor of civil engineering early in his career,” Koon said.

“Jim was always a pleasure to be with as he encouraged others to succeed and excel at their own pace,” said Paul Mayne, another current professor in the School. “He was definitely an influential individual in the greater Atlanta area regarding civil engineering, water resources, and higher education.”