Tor Brekke 1934 - 2009


Tor Brekke 1934 - 2009
A symposium in honor of Professor Tor Brekke is organized by the University California Berkeley for Friday 8 May, 2009. The symposium will be held in conjunction with the traditional year-end distinguished lecture series. The event will be held at the at the University’s Sibley Auditorium starting at 8.30am. Link for details and to register on-line.

March 14, 2009 Memorial

Tor L. Brekke, renowned tunneling expert and U.C. Berkeley professor emeritus, passed away on March 6, 2009,
at his home in Berkeley, California. A memorial service was held March 14, 2009, in El Cerrito, California.
Born March 3, 1934, this Norwegian immigrant exemplified the American dream. A Bohemian Club member, he enjoyed life to the fullest and showered those around him with love and respect
As a professional engineer, Dr. Brekke influenced projects in many countries of the world and most major tunnelling projects in the USA, impacting on hydropower plants, dams, highways, railroads, and mining projects. As an educator, he considered his greatest achievement to be the accomplishments of his students.
A past chairman of the US National Committee of Tunneling Technology, Tor was a member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He authored or co-authored more than 85 publications and in 2008 was recipient of the Outstanding Educator of the Year Award presented by the US Underground Construction Association.
His professional success was only surpassed by his kindness as a husband, father and grandfather. He is survived by his wife Joyce; sons Tor and Gunnar; daughter-in-law Carolina; and grandchildren Naomi and Monica, who all adored him.
Personal tribute by former student Gregg Korbin
Nearly forty years ago I walked into Tor’s smoke filled office at UC Berkeley to inquire about a class he offered in Engineering Geology. That chance meeting changed my life. I soon acquired his love of tunneling and came to realize that he was a very special person.

Tor Brekke
1934 - 2009

He not only loved his work and his wonderful family, but had a love of life. Traveling with Tor on many adventures was always first class. He did not mind paying for the extras that made life special, and I should add his generosity always extended to all in his company.
Tor was not only recognized in the academic world - nominated to full professor in Civil Engineering at UC Berkeley in 1976 and elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in 1977 and the Norwegian Academy of Technical Sciences in 1982 - but also by tunnel designers and contractors for his practical approach. More than one contractor has told me they were happy he was their consultant or part of the design team for this very reason. (How many professors can make that claim?) While the academic side was important, it was the teaching part that was most rewarding to Tor and gave him lasting pleasure, for which he was widely recognized and received many awards. Tor was very proud of the number of former students who subsequently advanced to top positions of leadership in the field and have made a significant mark in the industry.
Owners, especially those managing complicated projects, loved to have Tor as their consultant, especially as a part of the design review board, as he kept them honest and focused on the big picture. For me, and for many others, Tor has always served as a reality check; if Tor approved, you knew it was okay. However, when something did not make sense or was simply wrong he set the record straight. There have been a number of instances where it would have been convenient to blame “the geology”, but he would not accept the falsehood. You always got an honest opinion, and equally important, if he did not know, he would say so. Tor did have his limits; I have seen him get up from meetings and leave when he could no longer take the nonsense.

Award presentation in June 2008 - (from left) Matt Fowler (fs*), Brenda Bohlke-Myers (fs), Ian Brown (fs), Harvey Parker, Tor (seated), Gregg Korbin (fs), Dan Zerga, Mike McRae (fs) (*former student)

Many recent comments from former students and those associated with Tor focus, on his generosity, not only of his time to explain technical concepts, but as a friend. To his students he was known as Uncle Tor, an honor that demonstrated that the relationship with his students went well beyond the normal student-professor. Others have said his classes were the only ones with lasting influence. Tor always made a special effort to take his students into the field to show them real tunnel work: how shotcrete was applied or how a roadheader works. He knew what was missing from the educational system and filled the gap.
The tunneling industry, and many others, have greatly benefited from his remarkable gifts.
Thank you, Tor.
Gregg Korbin
EarthTech, California

David F. Tsztoo, P.E., Senior Project Manager, New Irvington Tunnel Project,
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco, California

9 Mar, 2009

Thank you for sharing the sad news about Tor. He was referred to by Cal Berkeley students as one of the ‘legends’.

I still remember his wit, humor, and his advocacy of “why settle for a retrofit tunnel when we can have a Cadillac new tunnel?” when we worked with him on the Claremont Tunnel seismic upgrade project.

He will be greatly missed by Berkeley alumni and those of us who had the privilege of working with him in the tunneling profession.

The Claremont Tunnel recently received the ASCE 2009 Charles Pankow Award for Innovation – TunnelTalk, Mar 2009