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Obituary: Professor Benjamin Isaac George Barr (1942-2010)

Professor Ben Barr died overnight on 28 September after a fight with cancer.

Barr graduated from University College, Cardiff in 1964 with a first class honours degree in civil engineering. This was followed by brief spells with the civil engineering contractors Taylor Woodrow Construction and consultants Freeman Fox and Partners before returning to University College to undertake a PhD in fracture mechanics with Prof Gurney, with which he graduated in 1968.

He then worked as an engineer for a short period with Glamorgan County Council, before becoming first a senior lecturer and then principal lecturer in civil engineering at the Polytechnic of Wales (now the University of Glamorgan). During this period he also spent five months as a visiting academic in the department of civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, USA.

Barr returned to University College, Cardiff in 1980 where his primary research interests were the application of experimental strain analysis methods and numerical techniques in Fracture Mechanics, developing fracture tests for concrete in the various fracture modes including mixed-mode fracture, fibre reinforced concrete, high performance concretes and the toughness of concrete and FRC.

Barr also had an interest in novel construction methods (soil nailing and artificial islands), polymer concrete and the use of waste materials in concrete and perhaps above all, a passion for bridges and the history of bridge building, particularly in Wales.

“It is no coincidence that it was during his tenure as the head of the civil engineering division at Cardiff that it became recognised as the academic success story of the University”

Ben retired from the University in 2005, although continued his work with the ICE right through to 2009. Known both locally and nationally he worked tirelessly for his profession. He represented the South Wales Association and subsequently ICE Wales, Cymru first as honorary secretary, as chairman in the 1988/89 session and as their council member from 1999 to 2002.

He was a member of the Joint Board of Moderators from 1999 to 2008, the chairman of its International Sub-Committee from 2002 to 2007 and an ICE representative on the Quality Assurance and overseas accrediting committees of the Engineering Council between 2002 and 2008.

He was awarded the prestigious Parkman Medal in 2009 – which is awarded by the ICE for the best paper published by the Institution in the previous year – for his paper UK Civil Engineering Education in the Twenty First Century.

At all times Barr conducted himself with conviction, good humour and with a particularly good eye for detail. Always eager to highlight the positive, he was a gifted and talented communicator, reinforced by his love of poetry from which he would always find a discerning and often amusing quote to illustrate his point.

Barr was also passionate about rugby and his tales of the exploits of ‘The Sombreros’, as they followed his beloved Wales home and away, could keep an audience entertained whatever the outcome of the match.

Barr was fair and considerate in all his dealings and a great leader who would support and defend his team at all times. Everyone who worked with him knew they could (and did) let off steam with Barr and he would never bear a grudge. It is no coincidence that it was during his tenure as the head of the civil engineering division at Cardiff that it became recognised as the academic success story of the University.

He cared passionately about all aspects of his work, a passion that was founded and supported by his unerring belief in the importance of family and family values.

He was the faithful partner and best friend of Sarah, loving and supportive Dadi of Sybil and James, devoted Dacu to Oliver, Gwen, Sam, Megan and Daisy and dear friend of Siân, all of whom he was immensely proud of and to whom we send our sincere condolences.

Colleagues across the civil engineering profession as a whole will greatly miss him. He will be remembered as a good, kind and extremely caring individual to whom, as he would always remind us, “these are the good old days”.

Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering
Formerly Carillion Professor of the Built Environment
Cardiff School of Engineering
Head, Division of Civil Engineering: 1989 - 2001

Readers' comments (3)

  • I have fond memories of Ben Barr from my time as a student. In fact, I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for him.

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  • Its very sad to hear of Ben's passing, he was a gentleman. My sincere condolences go out to his family.

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  • Prof Ben was a true gentleman with such a kind heart. I personally studied under his guidance at what was then University College Cardiff between 1983 and 1986. My thoughts are with his family.

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