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Derek John Knight, 1931-2002

Derek Knight was a geotechnical engineer who specialised in earth and rockfill embankment dams and played an important role in promoting the role of engineering geologists in civil engineering consultancy.

Derek was born on 18 December 1931 and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree (Cambridge University, 1955). Following graduation, he joined Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners and remained with the company until his retirement in 1996. He was appointed an Associate in 1978 and was Head of the Geotechnical Department 1978-1986. He subsequently became a Consultant (1988), Technical Director (1989) and Senior Technical Director (1992).

During his career with Gibb, Derek was involved in planning, investigation, design, construction, inspection and operational behaviour monitoring on over 100 dams throughout the world - including Africa, South America, Asia and UK. In particular he was closely involved with the design and construction of dikes in the Dead Sea for the Arab Potash Company in Jordan from 1975 until his retirement. In 1985 he was appointed as a Member the All Reservoirs Panel of Qualified Civil Engineers under UK reservoirs safety legislation (Reservoirs Act 1975). In 1986, Derek was a Member of the Panel of Enquiry into the Kantalai reservoir disaster, Sri Lanka, for the Sri Lankan and UK Governments. He also served on panels concerned with the safety of dams in Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.

He was the author of 29 papers and published reports on geotechnical and dam engineering, and a frequent contributor to written discussions on published papers.

Derek was Chartered Engineer and a Member (1961) and later Fellow (1973) of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was elected Fellow of the Geological Society in 1996 and was a Member of the British Geotechnical Society and the British Dam Society.

During the ten-year period from 1976, Derek shared my office at Gibb when I was the company’s Chief Engineering Geologist. It was during this time that engineering geology developed as a major discipline within Gibb, and increasing numbers of engineering geologists became integrated into the Geotechnical Department. Derek played an influential role in encouraging this integration between geotechnical engineers and engineering geologists. He also supported the move within the company to recognise that Chartered Geologist was equivalent to Chartered Engineer within the career progression of geologists - thus opening the way for geologists to become Directors of the company.

Derek always maintained a clear separation between his private and professional lives. He was a robust advocate of his Christian views and maintained a strong loyalty to his family and firm. He had a good sense of humour and an ability to recall information at an incredible level of detail. He often adopted the role of ‘conscience of the company’, asking the questions that others were reluctant to raise.

After his retirement (1996) Derek’s health deteriorated. This did not, however, deter him from continuing work as a consultant on dams and attending important technical meetings, including the Glossop Lectures. He developed cancer, but, while in remission, died of a heart attack in December 2002.

Derek is survived by his wife and son.

Robert Chaplow