Professor Paul Adrian Auchmuty Back CBE FREng FICE 1930 - 2017

It is with regret that we hear of the death of Professor Paul Back. 

He was born and educated in South Africa. He obtained a BSc at Cape Town University in 1951 and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University (Trinity College) and obtained a DPhil (Engineering Science) in 1954.

Having graduated from Trinity College, Oxford (where he later became a Visiting Fellow) he joined Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners, a major consulting civil engineering firm, in 1955, becoming an associate in 1967 and partner in 1970.  He became chief technical director in 1989 when the firm merged with the American company Law (later acquired by Jacobs Engineering Group).

Initially he worked on the design of the Kariba Dam and subsequently joined the Gibb site staff in what was then Southern Rhodesia. Following his return to the UK he was involved with the design of the Latiyan Dam (Iran), major dams on the Orange River in South Africa, the Indus Basin Project, Victoria and Samonellaweewa dams in Sri Lanka, the Drakensberg Pumped Storage Project (South Africa), Katse Dam (Lesotho) and a number of other important hydroelectric dam projects including the Tongariro Hydroelectric Scheme in New Zealand and Lar Dam in Iran.

From 1992 to 1998 he was the Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor in the Principles of Civil Engineering Design at the University of Oxford, a role previously held by ICE Past President Edmund Hambly. University staff recall that he was "a real gentleman, very civilised and thoughtful". During his time there, in 1993, he was asked to assess the Peruca Dam in Croatia which had been sabotaged by the Serbs in the Balkan war and which, if breached, would result in the deaths of 20,000 people in a city downstream. He decided that the dam, although damaged, would probably not fail and so the town did not need to be evacuated. In the event the dam held.

He joined the ICE in 1956 as a Graduate member, becoming a Member in 1962 and achieving Fellowship in 1971. He was elected as a Council member from 1989 to 1992 and became a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1981. He was awarded a CBE in 1994 for services to Dam Engineering in Developing Countries.

He made a major contribution to all of the projects with which he was involved not least because of his inventiveness and ability to find new technical solutions when the need arose.

He was an inspiration to the numerous young engineers who he helped in many ways.


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