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IN MEMORIAM: Dr. Robert Engler, October 1941 – March 2015

Dr. Robert Engler, 73, died in the early morning of March 5, 2015 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was surrounded by his family at his death.

Dr. Engler was a prominent figure in the worldwide dredging and environmental communities, and his news of his death was received with shock and sorrow by colleagues around the globe.  

Dr. Engler had a 34-year career as a research scientist at the Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station (WES, now the U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center - ERDC) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He retired from the Corps in 2005, and joined Moffatt & Nichol Engineering as the Senior Environmental Scientist in January, 2006. 

At ERDC, he was a USACE Senior Scientist (Environmental), and Technical Director for Civil Works Research. He directed water resource, environmental and engineering-related research with a particular focus on soil science and dredging. He was the author and co-author of numerous publications on geochemistry of dredged material, flooded soils, sediments, toxic substances, aquatic disposal, domestic and international regulatory criteria, and related topics. 

In the course of his career, Dr. Engler was manager of the ERDC Environmental Effects of Dredging Program. He conducted and led biogeochemical research, and directed broader sediment and navigation research. He was a frequent witness at Congressional hearings, a State Department delegate for environmental treaties, a frequent expert witness, and a member of numerous United Nations advisory boards. 

With Moffatt & Nichol, he worked on environmental, dredging and contaminated sediments-related projects, ranging from harbor deepening to Superfund sediment cleanup activities. 

Announcing Dr. Engler’s death, Tom Verna, executive director of the Western Dredging Association (WEDA), told members, “Throughout the years, Bob has made many contributions, both personal and professionally, that positively impacted the success of WEDA and the entire dredging community. He will always be remembered as a dear friend, colleague and world renowned environmental scientist that worked on dredging issues. Our deepest condolences are extended to Bob's family and the many others mourning his passing today.”

Dr. Engler was born on October 18, 1941, in Alexandria, Louisiana. After a tour in the U.S. Navy, he attended Louisiana State University, receiving degrees -- Bachelor of Science in 1967, Master of Science in 1969, and Ph.D. in 1972, in agronomy in the chemistries of flooded and upland soils. As a Certified Soil Scientist, he began employment as a geochemist with the Waterways Experiment Station in 1973, where he participated in and directed environmental and engineering-related research.  

As a technical expert for scientific and technical issues on dredged and fill material disposal testing, Dr. Engler has been a U.S. State Department representative to the international London Dumping Convention (now the London Convention) starting in 1977, two years after the United States became a signatory, and participated in the extensive work program concerning all aspects of disposal at sea. He was active in the study of ocean disposal of dredged material for the International Navigation Association (PIANC).  

His office at ERDC was a museum of awards and citations he had received in the course of his career and the collection grew during his tenure with Moffatt & Nichol.  Among his more notable awards were the U.S. Army Engineer Association Silver Order of the de Fleury medal, and the Meritorious Civilian Service Award from the Chief of Engineers. 

At the ASCE Dredging 2012 Conference in San Diego, Dr. Engler was inducted as a Distinguished Diplomate by the Academy of Coastal, Ocean, Port & Navigation Engineers (ACOPNE), a certification group run by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Fewer than 200 engineers in the history of the Academy have achieved this distinction. 

In 2006, the Dredging Contractors of America (DCA) presented Dr. Engler with the prestigious William R. Murden award celebrating lifetime public service. It was memorable because he had often been mentored by Murden over the previous 30 years.  

In 2004, when he was the Army's Senior Scientist (Environmental) at ERDC, he was appointed chair of the newly-formed Dredging Operations subcommittee of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Coastal, Oceans, Ports and Rivers Institute (COPRI).  In appointing him, COPRI Chair Charles Calhoun said, “As you will probably agree, Bob has become the 'Mr. Dredging' of the world. He knows and/or is known and respected by practically everyone in the profession. I think this is important, in that we in COPRI want to work more closely with and not compete with organizations such as the International Navigation Association (PIANC) and the Western Dredging Association (WEDA). For some time now PIANC and COPRI have had an MOU (memorandum of understanding) in place that has resulted in successful joint efforts including the Ports conferences. There is so very much that needs to be done in the dredging area and our organizations must work together for the overall benefit of the profession. Bob agrees with this vision and is ideally suited to take on this task, since he is in top leadership positions in both PIANC and WEDA.”

Bob Engler’s friendliness and generosity with his time won him widespread respect and affection in the dredging and environmental communities around the world. He was a regular speaker and delegate at conferences and symposia in his areas of expertise, including the World Dredging Conferences (WODCON), Western, Central and Eastern Dredging Association conferences, the Texas A&M Dredging Short Course, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) dredging conferences, and local and international meetings of PIANC, among others. He won friends easily with his friendly demeanor and wide areas of interest. A son of a ranching family, he talked of subsidizing his education in part by riding in rodeo events, and friends described a trophy saddle in pride of place in his house. He was proud of the Waterways Experiment Station, which the Corps of Engineers established at Vicksburg in 1930 in response to the disastrous Mississippi River Flood of April 1927. During the record flooding in May 2011, he watched the river crest at Vicksburg and sent photos of the engulfed waterfront to International Dredging Review

Bob spent 27 years with the Vicksburg Soccer League, as a coach, as president of the organization and as a referee, and he volunteered for five years as an assistant soccer coach at St. Aloysius High School in Vicksburg. He was an active communicant of Christ Episcopal Church.

He is survived by his wife Pat Mack Engler, son Robert M. (Rip) Engler II (Stephanie) of Vicksburg, Mississippi, daughter Jimi Su Bonnette (Ronnie) of Bush, Louisiana, five grandchildren, a brother Bruce Kerr, sister Dianne Bass and two nieces.  

The funeral was held on Saturday, March 7 at Christ Episcopal Church in Vicksburg, with interment at the columbarium in the church garden.

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Mar 10, 2015 10:44 am
 Posted by  Jimi Su

Wow. That is the Dad I remember, always smiling. Thank you for this touching tribute to my Father.

Jimi Engler Bonnette

Mar 24, 2015 08:32 pm
 Posted by  Judith P.

That's how I remember him, too, Jimi. I'm glad you liked the memorial - I hope I included all the many, many accomplishments of his life. His death leaves a huge gap in the dredging and environmental communities.
Judith Powers

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