Robert A. (Bob) Grace grew up in southwestern Ontario in Canada, bounded by Lakes Huron and Erie. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering there, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) for both his Master’s and then (June 1966) Ph.D. in Hydrodynamics and Water Resources. He was hired by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (U.H.) College of Engineering and reported for duty there in September of 1966. He took an apartment in Waikīkī, close to the beach, and quickly became an avid surfer.
He would teach three Civil Engineering courses per semester, drawn from statics, dynamics, and fluid mechanics fundamentals. Over the next four years he introduced and taught an undergraduate course in applied probability and statistics, as well as a graduate course on the topic of the marine disposal of wastewaters. He also joined a small group of professors assigned to develop an Ocean Engineering Program (O.E.P.) within the College of Engineering. The intent was to double the physical size of an existing shed-like UH building near Kewalo Basin and to install there, with federal monies, some major items of research equipment such as a physical model basin, “deep tank,” and wave flume. In time, the O.E.P. became the UH Department of Ocean Engineering. Dr. Grace remained in the Civil Engineering Department. He assisted both the State of Hawaiʻi and the City and County of Honolulu in various ways, chiefly in providing technical advice in legal proceedings.
Dr. Grace felt strongly that tests should also be conducted in the actual ocean close by, and for the next quarter century he carried out a series of at-sea experiments and in the process logged about 3,000 individual SCUBA dives. The water depths involved ranged from 15 to 50 feet. He was aided by a dedicated series of Civil Engineering and Ocean Engineering students. He concentrated on wave forces, the objects involved being seabed-based spheres, pipes, cubes, and artificial reef modules. The latter came about because of the heavy seabed damage caused by Hurricane Iwa’s giant waves in 1982. He published a variety of related technical papers. He managed to write two books, both on a special type of submarine pipeline called outfalls. The first, Marine Outfall Systems: Planning, Design, and Construction (1978, Prentice-Hall) served as a textbook and reference manual in the industry. His second book, Marine Outfall Construction: Background, Techniques, and Case Studies (2009, American Society of Civil Engineers) contained over seven hundred references that represented his many hours of poring through periodicals in various libraries both in Hawaiʻi and abroad. These volumes included not only the results of his academic endeavors but also relevant insights from consulting efforts, conducted as far away as Bombay.
Dr. Grace was a truly gifted teacher, but in the words of a former student, he was “tough” and hammered home details in class, including units and linkages to the physical world. He expected those in the class to be alert, informed, and participate in problem solving, and to have completed the assigned homework problems without collaboration. Although strict with discipline, he had a wonderful sense of humor and periodically had the class members “in stitches.” He welcomed students with questions to come to his office, and many of these visits turned into “talk story” sessions that delighted the students involved. He retired in June 2013 after 47 wonderful years of teaching at UH!
Dr. Grace also sought international exposure, and with sabbaticals and occasional leaves of absence from U.H., he spent months-long intervals working in France, (government, offshore drilling contractor), Australia (government), New Zealand (University of Canterbury), and South Africa (University of Cape Town). He also spent two and one-half years at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Besides teaching Civil Engineering courses there, he took classes in fisheries to bolster five summers spent on commercial salmon boats in Alaska. During many other summer intervals, he participated in the UH Summer Sessions, chiefly presenting statics and dynamics classes. This helped many students to get ahead with their studies.
Unfortunately, around the time of his retirement in 2013, it was discovered that Dr. Grace has a form of Parkinson’s disease. He is getting treatment, in Hawaiʻi and in Sacramento, California, where his second daughter is a general surgeon. His first daughter is a pediatrician and works for U.S. Senator Brian Schatz in Washington, D.C. His two boys are in San Francisco, one working for Google and the other doing his orthopedics surgery residency. His fifth child graduated from the University of Toronto, worked for a year, and is currently spending time with Dr. Grace and his steadfast wife Mary Ellen Nordyke-Grace. Mary Ellen retired after 26 years at Hawaiian Electric Company and is also enjoying travel opportunities and leisure time with Bob and the family.
Professor Grace is thrilled that upon his retirement, a UH Foundation fund was set up in his name to support the UH College of Engineering. He is most thankful and honored by those who created the fund, and to those who contribute to this cause, and thereby support the students and the department. It is truly remarkable that he had the opportunity, over the years, to teach three generations of UH engineering students.