Ulysses Grady: Reaping the rewards of hard work

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Georgia Tech alumnus Ulysses Grady, circa 1981

In 1979, when Ulysses Grady was getting ready to graduate from Georgia Tech the first time, he had a serious choice to make.

“It was either go to Meharry School of Dentistry on a full scholarship, or go back to Tech for a master’s in civil engineering, which was also fully funded,” said the Florida native, now vice president of construction operations for the Atlanta-based Pentagon 540, LLC.

“It was a hard choice to make, but it was also nice to have a choice like that to make. Looking back, I think I got it right. I went back to Georgia Tech so I could start working in one year - not four. I don’t think I could have spent the rest of my life looking into other people’s mouths anyway.”

For anyone who knew Grady back in his college glory, this humorous observation has a very familiar ring to it. Ulysses Grady was never one to wait around gracefully when there was a possibility for action. If there was work to be done, he’d do it – if only so he could reap the rewards. Those rewards included the purchase of a new TransAm when he was still an undergraduate and the purchase of two cars (a Turbo Mustang and a Jaguar), as well as a house, when he was in graduate school.

“I was always working as a co-op in undergrad and in graduate school, so I could get and do what I wanted,” he said.

One of the things he wanted to do was relax – when the time was right.

“I worked very hard during the week so that, on the weekends, I could sponsor or attend one, maybe two parties,” he said, with his eyes twinkling. “I always had something to look forward to.”

Ulysses Grady
Ulysses Grady, BSCE '79, MSCE '81

That his love of socializing did not impair his grades says a lot about Grady’s upbringing – and about Georgia Tech.

Work has never been a four-letter word for Grady.

In grade school, Grady got up before dawn to complete a newspaper route six or seven days a week. When he was big enough to push a mower, he became the unofficial caretaker of all of his neighbors’ lawns – earning a tidy profit along the way. And when he was old enough to work fast food, he fit a part-time job in between his classes at Tampa’s Jesuit High School.

“I didn’t work because I had to, but I felt like I should give my mother money for bills, because finances were tight,” he said.

“It was always a good thing, though, because I always had some left for myself, and that meant I could save up for things. I bought my first bike, motorcycle and my first car, all from the jobs I held.“

His love of work extended to the classroom, where he enjoyed math and science. When he got to Georgia Tech, those subjects got a lot harder to tackle, but Grady found support from faculty like Professor George Sowers.

“I cannot say enough good about Professor Sowers,” he said. “We all loved and respected him. If you worked hard, he’d treat you like you were his equal, like you had something to say. He was every civil engineering student’s favorite professor.”

A member of the CEE External Advisory Board since 2010, Ulysses Grady, seen here with his wife, Tonia, is rarely without his bluetooth earpiece. "I like to stay connected to my clients," he said.

Sowers often blended real-world examples into his explanations of highly theoretical material. Students appreciated the way Sowers always encouraged them to consult their common sense before looking for technologically complicated answers. A soil expert, Sowers frequently came up with some intriguing examples.

Recalls Grady:

“So, take quicksand. In every western movie you’ve ever seen, a cowboy is getting swallowed up by the quicksand, but Professor Sowers showed us that that’s the biggest lie there is. You can’t sink in quick sand because your body weight is less than the density of both soil and water and will always float. Now Professor Sowers could have shown us the density analysis equations first, but he wanted us to always first apply some common sense, too.”

Grady took that simple formula and applied it to his career, which has been a nonstop adventure since he earned his master’s degree in 1981. He’s proud to point out that he served as chief engineer on Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis hotel, and, for more than 20 years, ran his own Houston-based business, Grady Management and Construction. Though he ultimately decided not to pursue a Ph.D., he has no regrets about coming back to Georgia Tech to take courses in 2005.

“Teaching was on my bucket list - partly because of Professor Sowers - but I found another way to help students,” he said. “I ended up working with the city’s Department of Watershed Management for six years, where they put me in charge of the co-op/internship program. I helped to hire students, primarily from Tech, and helped them see how it all works in the field.”

We think George Sowers would  agree with us: Ulysses Grady can cross that one off the bucket list.