Douglas W. Barr, civil engineer, hydrologist, and founder of Barr Engineering Co. in Minneapolis has died. He was 98.
Barr, F.ASCE, an ASCE life member, started out as an engineer for several government agencies in the Midwest, designing and improving community water systems. He then had an ambitious idea: to convince Adolf Meyer, the leading hydrologist in Minneapolis, to bring him in as an associate. In 1953, Barr started an engineering consulting firm that he built over the decades into a thriving company. In 1966, there were 16 employees and by 2021 that number was 900 spread over 10 offices.
Known as independent, he believed in balancing individual interests and passions with collective responsibility. Long before “flexible work environments” had become a commonplace concept in contemporary work culture, he introduced this approach at Barr, encouraging employees to manage their own time and act as consultants.
As the firm grew, Barr, onboarded staff who helped shape and uphold his standards and integrated approach to consulting. His determination and persistence gave rise to the company’s mission: to solve clients’ problems as if they were their own.
World War II broke out after he’d spent a year at Harvard University, and he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He studied meteorology at University of Chicago and University of Wisconsin, and was then stationed in the Pacific theater, forecasting weather for the planes and the crews flying missions. He returned to Minneapolis and graduated with civil engineering and hydrology degrees from the University of Minnesota.
Barr Engineering Co. is employee-owned. From its initial focus on hydrology and water management, the company has grown to include awarded and acclaimed experts in many specialties.
Barr’s honors include the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers' Engineer of the Year (1989) and the University of Minnesota Regents' Outstanding Achievement Award (2010). Barr mentored students at U of M Engineering college and maintained his memberships in several engineering professional societies.
Barr played pick-up basketball with youngsters, loved canoe trips in the Boundary Waters, and Verdi operas. He liked impromptu puns and traveled throughout the world his last 18 years.
He ran two miles every day and studied quantum mechanics at the University well into his 90s. Until very recently, he continued to visit the Minneapolis office on a regular basis to have lunch with staff members.