NEWS RELEASE, 12/29/98
Founder of UC's Institute of Transportation Studies,
Harmer E. Davis, has died at the age of
BERKELEY -- Harmer E. Davis, professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder of what is now the University of California Institute of Transportation Studies, died Dec. 24 at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Calif. He was 93.
Davis was an international leader in transportation policy and the founder of the nation's first program combining research and teaching in transportation issues. The model established by Davis in 1947, which includes a close collaboration with the State of California's highway department, has since been followed by many states.
The California legislature asked the University of California to set up an Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering to help train the engineers who would be needed as the state upgraded its roads and airports after World War II. Davis, then an associate professor of civil engineering, was picked to help organize the institute.
Davis toured the United States looking at what few programs existed at universities and in state and federal highway departments, then combined these ideas into a pioneering center located on the UC Berkeley campus.
In 1948 he was asked to become its statewide director, and he served in that capacity until his retirement in 1973. During his tenure, institute members conducted significant research on airport runway design and lighting that has had a major impact on how airports are designed and operated today. Other members looked at highway design and traffic control, among other things.
"At the time of his retirement, the national and international stature of Harmer Davis was probably unequaled in the world in the field of transportation," said Vice Chancellor for Research Joseph Cerny at the 1996 dedication ceremony for the Harmer E. Davis Transportation Library in the institute.
The institute has always maintained close ties with the state highway department, now called Caltrans, and in the early years trained many engineers who went on to work for the state. Affiliated transportation centers soon opened at UC Irvine and UC Davis, eventually becoming independent institutes in the 1970s.
As director, Davis participated in many highway, air and urban transport activities, and served as advisor to various legislative and public affairs groups. He had extensive involvement with transportation developments throughout the country, especially with regard to the planning, financing and development of highways and airports.
A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Davis received many honors during his lifetime. Among these were ten awards and medals from the American Society of Civil Engineers. He also was an honorary member of the American Public Works Association and in 1959 chaired the executive committee of the Highway Research Board of the National Research Council.
Davis was born and raised in Rochester, New York, (d.o.b. 7/11/05) and subsequently obtained his B.S. (1928) and M.S.(1930) in civil engineering from UC Berkeley. He was immediately hired as an assistant professor of civil engineering, and remained on the faculty for 45 years. He served as chair of the civil engineering department from 1955 until 1959.
His own research involved the engineering properties of concrete, asphalt and soils. During World War II, though, he conducted research on the resistance of materials to the impact of shells.
He was also known as an excellent teacher, with a special talent for dealing with students.
Davis is survived by his third wife, Phyllis Davis, of Walnut Creek, Calif., and three children by his first marriage: Lynn Davis of San Diego, Eugene Davis of Union City and Willard Davis of Berkeley. His survivors include three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Davis requested that his remains be cremated and that the ashes be scattered in the northern Sierra.
Those who wish to donate to student aid in his memory should call the UC Berkeley Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at (510) 642-3261.
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