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OBITUARY Niels Krebs Ovesen 1934-2005

LATE IN his career, from 2001, Niels Krebs Ovesen enthusiastically returned to basic engineering as project manager on foundations for oil tanks and services for the Batumi oil terminal in Georgia and as independent adviser on projects in Belgium, the Netherlands and Estonia.

Thus 'How is Niels-' was lately a recurrent question at conferences and meetings where he was missed by many friends worldwide. Sadly, the answer now is that Niels passed away on the last day of 2005.

Born in 1934, he received his engineering education at the Technical University of Denmark (MSc in civil engineering in 1957 and PhD in geotechnical engineering in 1961).

To many he was 'Mr Eurocode', and codes of practice were definitely very close to his heart. However, he was much more than that. Five cornerstones come to mind: teaching, codes of practice, management, craftsmanship and rigour.

Niels had extraordinary gifts in communication and conduct of meetings. He was the pre-eminent listener who at the end of a meeting could make divergent views converge and summarise to everybody's satisfaction.

These skills served him well during his first, very long, assignment at the Danish Engineering Academy, where he was an inspired teacher and professor in geotechnical engineering from 1967 to 1987.

Niels was instrumental in producing the first Danish textbook in geotechnical engineering, selling more than 15,000 copies since the first edition in 1968.

He was always devoted to teaching and students and he actively headed production of a new textbook during 2004 and 2005. Despite his illness this was very much on his mind and he took time to ensure the work was completed.

His interest in teaching led to a heavy involvement in the European Society for Engineering Education, SEFI, where he was a member of the board from 1973-77 and chairman from 1977 -79.

Niels was member of the Unesco working group on continuing education from 1979 to 1987 and from 1983 to 1987 served as chairman for the Danish Council for Engineering Education.

During a sabbatical at the University of Florida in 1971, Niels took to centrifuge testing as a duck takes to water. After his return to Denmark he raised money and interest and established the centrifuge at the Danish Engineering Academy which for many years was the only large (100g ton machine with a radius of 2.3m) continental European centrifuge facility.

From 1979 Niels was heavily involved in codes of practice works at the national as well as European level. During 1981 to 1998 he was chairman for the drafting committee for a European code of practice for foundation engineering: Eurocode 7 Geotechnical design, work which has had a very significant impact.

Limit state design is intimately linked to Niels Krebs Ovesen's name, as are his contributions to the limit state symposia organised under the auspices of TC23 of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering.

At the national level he was secretary for the Permanent committee for the Danish code of practice for foundation engineering DS415, through the critical transition into the third edition in 1984 where a harmonised suite of Danish construction codes emerged.

Between 1985 and 1990, Niels served as chairman of the committee. During that time he also served as a member and then chairman of the steering committee for the Danish Engineering Society's code of practice organisation and had the very difficult and taxing job of transferring the code work to the Danish Standard Organisation after 99 years under the auspices of the Engineering Society.

Niels' skills in management and human relations were amply demonstrated during his tenure as ISSMGE vice president for Europe between 1985 and 1989 and as managing director for the Danish Geotechnical Institute (later named GEO) from 1987 to 1999. The latter marked his return to consulting, a vocation he pursued in various Danish companies during the first six years of his career. During his time at GEO the company was heavily involved in the investigations for the three fixed links across Storebælt, Øresund and Femer Belt.

His interest in promoting and guiding young people did not diminish and Niels promoted the Young Geotechnical Engineers Conferences (YGEC) at a European level, where the first was held in Copenhagen in 1987.

To instil rigour and to share his talent for communication and presentations, he devised the 'bad guygood guy' act which many will remember from his performance at the second YGEC in Oxford in 1988 or from the International Conference in New Delhi in 1994. He was a sought-after lecturer worldwide.

His dedication to the ISSMGE was spurred early on when he was secretary (1968-78) to the Danish Geotechnical Society, and later he was instrumental in rejuvenation of the board, where he served as chairman from 1978 to 1984. He was elected an honorary member of the Danish Geotechnical Society in 2000.

Niels was an adept craftsman who took great pride and satisfaction in renovating his different homes.

He was also an excellent cook. He appreciated good food and during his extensive travels went out of the way to sample exotic dishes.

His textbook on soil mechanics, his fundamental research on cellular cofferdams and anchor plates and his centrifuge work on modelling are unique achievements, for which he was awarded the Professor A Ostenfeld gold medal for geotechnical research.

Niels' lectures, with his easily recognisable hand-drawn illustrations on the overhead projector and his after-dinner speeches will be sadly missed.

He was a warm, interesting and warmly interested person; always there for you. He is survived by his wife Hanne and children Kamilla, Mette and Jakob.

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