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BY CHIANG C. MEI
THORNDIKE SAVILLE JR., former director of the Coastal Engineering Research Center, Army Corps of Engineers, and a leader of the coastal engineering profession in the United States, died on November 5, 2014, at the age of 89.
Saville, known as Thorn to his colleagues and friends, was born on August 1, 1925, in Baltimore, Maryland, into a family of distinguished hydraulic engineers. His father, Thorndike Saville Sr., served from 1930 to 1969 first on the Beach Erosion Board (BEB), which was part of the Civil Works Program of the US Army Corps of Engineers, and then on the Coastal Engineering Research Board.
Saville went to Harvard University for a year before joining the Army in 1943. As a weather observer during World War II, he collected meteorological data first along the Atlantic sea board and later in the Pacific, including New Guinea and the Philippines. After the war he returned to Harvard to complete his undergraduate degree in civil engineering in 1947, then went on to graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his master’s degree and studied and conducted sediment transport physical modeling tests under the direction of Joe Johnson.
Upon graduation, he was hired by Major General Glen Edgerton in 1949 to work on an assignment studying sediment and water movement in the Mission Bay, San Diego. In 1950 he moved to BEB at the Dalecarlia Reservoir in Washington, DC. When BEB became a part of the Coastal Engineering Research Center (CERC), Saville was appointed chief of its Research Division, whose missions were then expanded from beach erosion to deep water processes and the stability of navigation structures.
In 1971 Saville was appointed technical director, a position he held until his retirement in 1981. Among his personal achievements, he conducted larger-scale stability of rock experiments, testing and verifying Hudson’s formula (an equation used by coastal engineers to calculate the minimum size of riprap) in the large wave tank available only at the CERC.
As director he was in charge of conceiving, planning, and conducting projects for various Corps districts as well as coordinating research programs with universities on coastal engineering. The central mission was to provide better understanding of shore processes, wind waves, tidal inlets, storm surges, and current as they apply to navigation improvement, flood and storm protection, beach erosion control, and effects of construction on the ecology of US shorelines.
During his long and distinguished tenure, CERC produced the Shore Protection Manual, which has become the standard reference for coastal engineering design the world over. Another major accomplishment is the establishment of the Field Research Facility in Duck, North Carolina, recognized throughout the world as the premier research laboratory for developing the scientific foundations and engineering tools required to support sound coastal development.
Saville authored more than 75 publications in the field of hydraulics, including three BEB Technical Memoranda in 1953: Accuracy of Hydrographic Surveying In and Near the Surf Zone (with Joseph M. Caldwell), Wave and Lake Level Statistics for Lake Erie, and Wave and Lake Level Statistics for Lake Ontario. He held many key positions advising the engineering profession and the government on the coastal environment.
He was a member of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association and served on its board of directors until 1997. He also served as a member of the Coastal Engineering Research Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute.
Among numerous honors, Saville was elected an ASCE fellow and awarded the society’s Walter Huber Research Prize in 1963 and the John G. Moffatt-Frank E. Nichol Harbor and Coastal Engineering Award in 1979. In addition he was a professional engineer, fellow of the Washington Academy of Sciences, and longtime active member of the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure.
Thorndike Saville Jr. is survived by his wife Janet Foster Saville, daughters Sarah Saville Shaffer and Jennifer Saville, son Gordon Foster Saville and his wife Bei Huang Saville. Thorndike Saville Jr. was a giant in his profession, and a leader who served with dedication and distinction for the protection and improvement of the nation’s coast. He will be missed.
Scott D. 2014. Thorndike Saville, Jr. Dies at 89. ASCE Roundup, November 24.
Smith JM. 2014. In Memoriam of Thorndike Saville, Jr. Coastal Engineering Proceedings.