Former 1990 ASCE President John A. Focht Jr., 87, of Houston, has died. The active, highly esteemed consulting geotechnical engineer succumbed to pancreatic cancer Oct. 22.
Born in Rockwall, Texas, on Aug. 31, 1923, to John A. Focht Sr. and Fay Goss Focht, Mr. Focht received a bachelor of science in civil engineering in 1944 from the University of Texas, where his father served on the civil engineering faculty. Upon graduating, Mr. Focht was drafted and served with postwar Army occupying forces in France and Germany. After his release, he attended Harvard University under the G.I. Bill, earning a master of science in civil engineering in 1948.
While at Harvard, he studied under Karl Terzaghi, Arthur Casagrande, and other early pioneers of the emerging field of geotechnical engineering. Mr. Focht and Casagrande became lifelong friends, and it was at Casagrande's urging that John began work at the U.S. Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Miss., in 1948. While there, he designed levees, locks and other structures built by the Army Corps of Engineers along the Mississippi River system, including the Morganza Floodway.
Mr. Focht returned to the Army at the outbreak of the Korean War, where he served as a captain whose company was responsible for the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. After his discharge, he moved to Houston and joined Greer and McClelland, now McClelland Engineers. He was responsible in part for McClelland's growth from a small Houston practice of about 20 to an international organization of more than 800 employees, offering a wide range of geotechnical services to industry and government.
As ASCE President, Mr. Focht's theme was "The Civil Engineer Being a Good Citizen Engineer." ASCE's Texas Section created an award in his honor, the John A. Focht Jr. Citizen Engineer Award, given annually to an engineer for outstanding contributions to the community. He received the highest honor bestowed on a geotechnical engineer in 1993 when ASCE chose him to deliver the Karl Terzaghi Lecture.
ASCE also honored Mr. Focht with awards for five of his more than 40 papers on dams, pile foundations, and offshore structures. In 2002, the Geo-Institute named him a "hero," and the Texas Section gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. As a force for the creation of specialty certification within ASCE, he also was honored for his work as a founding director of Civil Engineering Certification, Inc. Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1986, he was the Texas Society of Professional Engineers Region IV Engineer of the Year and state Engineer of the Year, in 1987. The Chi Epsilon civil engineering honor society made him a National Honor Member in 2000.
Mr. Focht was one of the subjects of "Profiles in Leadership," a special edition of ASCE's Civil Engineering magazine in November/December 2002.
Read the profile.
The city of Houston reaped the most benefits from Mr. Focht's work. He designed the Lake Livingston and Lake Conroe dams, plus his innovations guided the foundation design of most of Houston's tallest buildings, including the JPMorgan Chase Tower, the tallest soil-supported building in the world. He oversaw much of the original development of NASA's Johnson Space Center, and was instrumental in the design and construction of many southeast Texas and Louisiana refineries and chemical plants, as well as Port of Houston facilities. His work also led to many innovations in the support of offshore exploration and drilling structures, particularly relating to pile foundation design and construction. In 2001, John was honored for these achievements with the Offshore Energy Center's Offshore Pioneer Award.
Active in his community, Mr. Focht was involved in Houston's Grace United Methodist Church. An Eagle Scout, he served as a committeeman for a Cub Pack and a Boy Scout troop, and one year as scoutmaster. He also served as a YMCA director.
Mr. Focht is survived by his spouse, Edith Rials Focht, to whom he was married 60 years, a daughter, a son, and a grandson. The family suggests memorial contributions may be directed to the John A. Focht Endowed Presidential Graduate Scholarship in Civil Engineering, attention Engineering Scholarship Program, The University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station C2100, Austin, TX 78712-0284; Fair Haven United Methodist Church, 1330 Gessner, Houston, TX 77055-4093; or the charity of the donor's choice.