Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • JOHN E. BREEN (1932-2023)



    JOHN EDWARD BREEN, a pioneering researcher in the field of structural concrete, died on Feb. 14, 2023, at age 90. An outstanding structural engineering educator, Jack taught at the University of Texas at Austin for more than 50 years before his retirement in 2013. He was the Nasser I. Al-Rashid Chair Emeritus in Civil Engineering at the time of his death.

    Jack was born on May 1, 1932, in Buffalo, New York — the older of Ted and Alice Breen’s two sons. Jack received a scholarship to attend Canisius High School in Buffalo. He attributed much of his career success to the well-rounded education that he received there, which focused on academic excellence and care for the whole person — mind, body, spirit, and soul.

    Jack was a first-generation college student and attended Marquette University on a Naval ROTC scholarship. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1953. While studying at Marquette, he met Marian Killian, who graduated from Marquette in nursing in 1952. Marian and Jack married in 1953, immediately after his graduation.

    Jack served as a U.S. Navy civil engineer corps officer in the Korean War and was stationed in Oxnard, California, and Foley, Alabama. Jack and Marian’s first two children were born in Alabama. After three years in the Navy, Jack entered the graduate program in civil engineering at the University of Missouri, where his career-long research and teaching interests in structural concrete began. Jack and Marian’s third and fourth children were born in Missouri. He received an M.S. from the University of Missouri in 1957 and served on the faculty there until 1959.

    Jack moved to Austin, Texas, in 1959 to begin a faculty appointment at the University of Texas and he completed his Ph.D. under the tutelage of Phil M. Ferguson (NAE 1973) in 1962. Jack and Marian’s four youngest children were born in Austin.

    Jack’s early research at the University of Texas addressed slender concrete columns and the development of deformed reinforcing bars in reinforced concrete buildings. The American Concrete Institute’s Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete (ACI 318-19) still includes multiple references to this important work. As a longtime member of ACI Committee 318, he led efforts to incorporate design provisions from Europe, including strut-and-tie models and anchorage to concrete, into the U.S. codes.

    Jack’s interest in post-tensioned concrete also began early in his career when post-tensioning in the United States was in its infancy. He was internationally recognized as a pioneer in segmental, precast concrete, and box girder bridges. His work addressed structural design, construction, and durability issues. His long-term relationship with the Texas Department of Transportation led to many innovations that were later adopted throughout the United States. He often recalled a project meeting in which the project director from the Texas Department of Transportation abruptly left mid-presentation to ensure that the laboratory findings being discussed were included in the bid package for a segmental bridge that was scheduled for issuance the next day.

    During his career, Jack mentored nearly 120 graduate students. He took great pride in their professional accomplishments and their leadership roles in the education and practice of structural engineering in the United States and around the world. Each went to Texas to study and work with Jack on his research projects.

    Jack was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1976 and received numerous awards for his research and service from professional organizations during his career. He was an honorary member of ACI, an honorary member of the American Segmental Bridge Institute, a distinguished member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, a Legend of Post-Tensioning of the Post-Tensioning Institute, and a foreign member of the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences. He received the 2000 International Award of Merit from the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineers and the 2002 Freyssinet Medal from the Federation International du Beton.

    Jack was a member of the Distinguished Alumni Hall of Honor at Canisius High School. He received an honorary doctorate from Marquette University. He was a member of the Academy of Distinguished Alumni from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Missouri and a Distinguished Engineering Graduate from the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Jack was a longtime member of the St. Austin Catholic Church in Austin, and he lived his life by the fundamental tenets of education, spirituality, and service to others. For many years, he volunteered once a week at a soup kitchen in Austin.

    Jack and Marian loved to travel and visited more than 40 countries together. Jack often shared stories of family camping trips, weekly rounds of golf with his children, and sailing on Lake Travis. He also actively participated in the lives of his grandchildren by attending every athletic, music, and religious event and academic milestone.

    Jack is survived by six children — Mary, Michael, Dennis, Sheila, Sean, and Kerry — and 13 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of 70 years, Marian, daughter Eileen, and son Christopher.