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Tor Brekke

02 April 2009

Tor BrekkeTor Brekke

Tor L. Brekke, professor emeritus of geological engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a world-renowned scholar in tunneling, died March 6 at his home in Berkeley after several months of declining health. He was 75.

During his career, Brekke authored more than 85 publications and consulted on more than 200 projects, including hydroelectric power plants, dams, highways, railroads, and mines around the world. His research interests included gas storage in excavated caverns, pressure tunnels and shafts, water and subway tunnels, and rock and soil tunneling.

Brekke was born in Kristiansand, Norway, in 1934. He graduated from the Norwegian Institute of Technology in Trondheim with a master of science degree in mining engineering in 1958, and a doctorate in geological engineering in 1963. From 1958 through 1960, in between earning his master's degree and returning to school for his doctorate, Brekke served as a private in the Norwegian Army Corps of Engineers, designing airfields and other structures.

After earning his doctorate, Brekke worked from 1960 to 1969 at the Institute of Geological Engineering at the Norwegian Institute of Technology as a research fellow and a university lecturer. He spent one of those years, 1967, as a visiting research associate at Berkeley's Department of Civil Engineering.

That year was a precursor to a longer career at Berkeley. In 1970, he returned to the campus as an acting associate professor of geological engineering in the Department of Civil Engineering, then became an associate professor months later and a full professor in 1976. He retired and became an emeritus professor in 1993.

"To generations of students, he was an outgoing, always sympathetic mentor on all aspects of their education and life in general," said Nicholas Sitar, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Brekke's excellence as a teacher was well-known: The student chapters of the ASCE and Chi Epsilon named him Outstanding Faculty of the Year in 1971. In 2008 he was the recipient of the Outstanding Educator of the Year Award, presented by the United States Underground Construction Industry in recognition of his exceptional contributions and dedication.

"Tor was very proud of the number of former students who subsequently advanced to top positions of leadership in the field and made a significant mark in the industry," said one former Berkeley engineering student, Gregg Korbin, now a geotechnical consultant. "He made a special effort to take his students into the field to show them real tunnel work: how shotcrete was applied or a road header worked. Owners, especially those managing complicated projects, loved to have Tor as their consultant, especially as a part of the design-review board, as he kept them honest and focused on the big picture."

Brekke was a devoted Cal booster who, colleagues said, never missed an opportunity to attend a football game. He was also a member of the Bohemian Club.

He is survived by his wife, Joyce Brekke of Berkeley; sons Tor Brekke and Gunnar Brekke of Kensington and Fremont, respectively; and two grandchildren. A private burial took place, and a memorial service was held on March 14 at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito.

Megan Williams,College of Engineering