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John T. Christian


John T. Christian, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE, NAE, Dist.M.ASCE (1936-2022)

With great sadness, we share the news that John T. Christian passed away on June 5, 2022 in Alexandria, Va. His wife of 62 years Lynda (née Gregorian), died two weeks later on June 20th in Fairfield, California. He is survived by his son, Douglas Christian of Alexandria, Va., his daughter Shirin Samiljan of Benicia, Calif., five grandchildren, his brother David of Granbury, Texas, and brother-in-law John Gregorian of Savannah, Ga. A memorial service is planned by the family for later in the year.

John T. Christian was born November 2, 1936, to Thomas and Evelyn (née Maestri) Christian in Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn. in 1953, and obtained BS (1958), MS (1959), and Ph.D. (1966) degrees in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 1959 to 1963, John interrupted his education to serve as an officer with the U.S. Air Force serving in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. From 1966 to 1973 he was Professor of civil engineering at MIT, after which he moved to the Stone & Webster Engineering Corporation of Boston. He retired as executive vice president in 1994. From there, he became a much-in-demand engineering consultant. From 2015 to 2022 he served as Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

John pioneered the use of computer methods in geotechnical engineering. He co-authored the first general purpose computer program for the analysis of slope stability with circular and non-circular failure surfaces. He co-authored a seminal book on Numerical Methods in Geotechnical Engineering (1977), a book on Productivity Tools for Geotechnical Engineers (1996), and a book on Reliability and Statistics in Geotechnical Engineering (2003).

As a practicing geotechnical engineer, he worked on projects involving earth dam evaluation and design, flow through porous media, nuclear power plants, solid waste landfills, foundation engineering, offshore facilities, mooring facilities, and pipelines. He performed geotechnical analyses for many on-site nuclear spent fuel storage facilities and for the stability of mining waste embankments.

In 1999, John was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and in 2001 he became a Distinguished Member of ASCE. He was the recipient of many professional honors and awards from ASCE, the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, and other organizations, including the Terzaghi Lecture Award of ASCE in 2003, and the Geo-Institute Cross USA Lectureship in 2012-2013.

He served as chairman of the NAE committee reviewing the status of the Boston Central Artery/Tunnel Project, a member of the NAE Committee on the New Orleans Regional Hurricane Projects post Katrina, the NAE Committee to review the Louisiana Coastal Restoration Project, and chaired the NAE Committee on the Bureau of Reclamation’s processes for ensuring dam security. Later in his career he chaired the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. As chair of the ABET, he made it his mission to improve the quality of engineering education by pushing for more diversified curricula. He told his students that if they expected to present their proposals to lay people, they needed to know how to communicate effectively in English, not merely in mathematics.

John was broadly educated in the classics, art, history, mathematics, and other fields, and was affectionately known to his family and close friends as, “the man who knows everything.” With their mutual passion for music, John and Lynda were on the Handel and Haydn Society’s Board of Overseers from 1993 to 1998. And along with his comprehensive historical knowledge, he famously once recited the names of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence when the question arose at a professional dinner. WA man for all seasons, John T. Christian will be missed by his family, friends, and the professional geo-community he served so well.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the John T Christian Memorial Scholarship at UMass Lowell.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of John T. Christian, please visit our flower store.


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