Obituary: James Kirkpatrick FIStructE

Published: 14/05/2018

Born in Belfast in 1940, Jim passed away peacefully on 5 April 2018 at his home in Coleraine. This obituary was written by Adrian Long, OBE, FREng.

After school, Jim joined Shorts Brothers and worked for a number of years in their Stress Office, where he got a good grounding in structures and worked on various high profile aircraft. In 1972 he moved to the Roads Service where he worked in design and maintenance. In October 1973 he decided to take on the challenge of an Honours degree course in Civil Engineering at Queen’s University. As a mature student he only had to study for two years and he was unique in that he had already passed the IStructE exam. He graduated in 1975 with a very good Honours BSc degree and was one of the top students in his class.

Three years later he was sponsored by the Roads Service to carry out research for an MSc on Bridges at Queen’s under the supervision of Professor Adrian Long, who had experience of bridge design in Toronto and bridge research in Kingston, Canada.  

Prior to deciding on the topic of his research, they visited the leading researchers in the UK and Jim became involved in research on field testing of M-beam bridge decks. Ably supported by Alastair Thompson, a Research Officer at Queens, Jim got some outstanding results, found an error in the widely used grillage analysis method and produced design charts for the rapid design of M-beam bridge decks. At this stage, as he had clearly shown that he was an excellent researcher, he was allowed to proceed directly to a PhD. Jim’s subsequent work on spaced M-beams involved close collaboration with Barry Rankin, another PhD student of Adrian’s. This involved model tests at Queen’s and full scale tests on a purpose built M-beam bridge in Co Down. The work was so successful that the money saved during the construction of the next M-beam bridge deck more than covered the expenditure by the Roads Service in their sponsorship of Jim’s research at Queen’s.  

Jim successfully completed his PhD in 1982 and during his time at Queen’s published a number of papers in the Structural Journal and presented lectures on his research at international conferences. The Journal papers resulted in a number of awards, including two medals - just recognition for Jim’s outstanding research.

Jim returned to bridge design in Roads Service and then was transferred to Coleraine in 1986 where he remained to his retirement in 2000. In Coleraine, one of his responsibilities was for the recently opened Foyle Bridge and he was linked once again with Queen’s University in the field monitoring of this, the longest bridge in Northern Ireland. One relatively minor bridge that Jim designed was the pedestrian bridge over the Bann in Coleraine. Jim’s bridge, as it is sometimes described, is a fitting memorial to his structural engineering expertise which he developed during his career. In parallel, he shared his knowledge of bridge design as a part-time lecturer at Queen’s and UU.

After retirement, his expertise in bridge engineering was called upon again by Adrian Long who had in the 1990s developed a new method of constructing arch bridges. Adrian needed someone to prepare the patent application and Jim fortunately agreed to do so. The patent for the FlexArch was published in 2004. Jim, acting as a consultant to the licensees in UK/Ireland, Macrete Ireland Ltd, worked tirelessly with Abhey Gupta to get the system established. In the past decade over 70 FlexiArch bridges have been installed and the system has won three National Awards in open competition with leading organisations in the construction industry. Without Jim’s input much less progress would have been made and we all owe Jim a great debt of gratitude. We all acknowledge the enormous contribution Jim has made to our profession and will miss his structural insight/can do approach to challenging tasks.

Jim became a Fellow of the Institution of Structural Engineers in the 1980s and was elected Chairman of the Northern Ireland branch in the mid-1990s. He was an active member of the Council in London and contributed greatly to various sub-committees.

Unfortunately Jim was diagnosed with an incurable degenerative illness in 2009, but with the full support of his family he carried this burden with great fortitude and patience. Jim is survived by his wife, Carol, and his two sons Philip and Andrew and their families. Our thoughts are with them at this time.


 

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