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Alfred Brian Hawkins 1934-2016

dfoigfojEngineering geologist and former Chair of the Engineering Group hugely respected as researcher, teacher and consultant.

Brian Hawkins came into engineering geology via geography and a keen interest in the Quaternary.  He studied at Bristol University between 1952 and 1956 before taking a teaching qualification and joining the staff at Bristol’s first comprehensive school.  Although he always loved teaching, he continued his own research, eventually returning to the University where he was awarded a PhD in 1970. He was an active academic, supervising over 30 PhDs, publishing more than 120 papers, for which he was awarded a Readership in 1979 and DSc in 1989.

Research Unit

Under his leadership, a strong engineering geological research unit was created that concentrated on such topics as slope stability in soils and weak rocks, engineering geochemistry of sulphates in the ground, and the remediation of historic mines and tunnels. He was hugely active in applied research, but it was his unique and engaging teaching skills that set him apart from others.

While on the staff at Bristol University, he discovered that his skills were in demand in the outside world. So, despite being appointed Reader in Engineering Geology in 1979, Brian found time to work as a consultant to the construction sector.  This unique combination of high level consultancy and academic work meant that his civil engineering and geology undergraduates and his PhD students gained huge benefit from his experience on projects around the world. 

Right to the end he maintained a personal interest in all aspects of the work of his firm, which was not allowed to grow to the detriment of his involvement, and which employed a number of his former research students.

Active roles

Brian Hawkins was also extremely active in the profession at large. At first, he operated in the arena of the Geological Society, taking a series of active roles in the Engineering Group where he was at one time Secretary (1972-4) and later Chairman (1982-4), having earlier contributed greatly to the success of the regional conference on slope stability held at Bristol in the autumn of 1972, the papers from which were published the following year in QJEGH. He edited QJEGH from 1990 to 1993, having published in the journal on several occasions previously. He was at one stage on the Géotechnique advisory panel.

 bnjSubsequently, he served as Vice President for Europe for the International Association for Engineering Geology and the Environment (IAEG) (1995 to 1998) and assisted by his partner Marian, he was Editor-in-Chief of the Bulletin of Engineering Geology and the Environment for 15 years from 1998 to 2012. He narrowly missed being elected as President of the IAEG in 1998, but was honoured with being the first recipient of the Marcel Arnould Medal presented at the 2014 IAEG Congress in Torino "in recognition of people of significant repute within the IAEG and who have made a major contribution to the Association" (picture).

Eddie Bromhead: ‘On a personal note, it was my great fortune to meet Brian and have the benefit of his advice and help at a number of notable points in my career, having first met him while on a field trip from Imperial College at Bath University in 1972, and then at irregular intervals thereafter, including at the Geological Society and other conferences. He helped me with my first paper, for which I will be forever grateful. Brian’s cheerful and helpful disposition, characterful strong west country voice and his contributions to the profession will be sorely missed.’

Unique character

Brian McConnell: ‘Brian was a unique character.  He supervised my PhD as well as a number of others and was hugely proud of all the people that went through Bristol University with him.  He had some classic lines like the time he told me that the best PhD students gained their degree despite their supervisor rather than because of them!  He developed my interest in geology into a keen interest in geotechnics and introduced me to some great projects at an early stage in my career.  We organised a surprise evening in a restaurant for his 70th birthday.  His partner Marian had booked a table for two.  As the evening progressed all the other tables filled up with other customers and it took some time for him to realise that practically everyone else in the place was one of his past PhD students.  We spent the next 3 hours talking and laughing about old times.  He was hugely embarrassed, but equally proud.  It was a great evening. 

You could go to practically any country in the world and find a geologist or a civil engineer who was lectured to or supervised by Brian and who would sing his praises.  They would all have heard the stories of the Combe Down Stone Mines or the project in Vanuatu.  He was truly unforgettable.’

Brian died suddenly in January this year at the age of 81.  That day he and Marian had visited a site, instructed the drillers, spent the evening at a local hotel.  His last day was spent doing exactly what he loved doing and with Marian by his side…. Way to go. 

Alfred Brian Hawkins PhD, DSc, FICE, FIMMM, FCIHT, CEng, CGeol, EurIng.  10 October 1934 to 22 January 2016

By: Eddie Bromhead, Chief scientific editor, QJEGH and Brian McConnell, Managing Director, Hydrock Consultants