David Lee, engineer and physicist extraordinaire, passed away at his home in Santa Monica on March 11, 2021. As many SEAOSC members will know, David was the West Coast representative for Taylor Devices, Inc., since the 1970s through to his “retirement” a few years ago. I had the good fortune of meeting Dave in the late 1980s, as our design team, fresh off the successful completion of Keck-USC Hospital, the world’s first seismic (base) isolated (SI) hospital building, was considering the use of passive energy dissipation devices to control lateral displacements for a very large hospital project located near the San Andreas/San Jacinto fault zone in the Inland Empire.
David came over and made a compelling presentation for the use of viscous-fluid dampers (VFD). Our senior leadership was highly skeptical, yet I felt a connection to Dave and his pitch at the time which I could not explain until a few days later when I learned that Dave was a fellow “Techer”. A graduate of California Institute of Technology (Caltech), though much senior to me. No wonder, I thought, he’s just following the Caltech thought process that is constantly drummed into their students’ brains: question the conventions and revert to fundamental principles to solve apparently intractable problems. So of course, it made sense to both of us that introducing velocity proportional dampers into a displacement proportional seismic isolator system would seem to be a perfect combination. The rest is history.
There are now scores of completed projects located throughout California and other states, both SI and conventionally framed, including numerous essential/critical services facilities where VFDs are used to modify the seismic load response very effectively and thereby obtain a level of seismic safety, protection and resilience that would not be possible via conventional means. Much of the credit for that game changing advancement in Seismic Engineering practice goes to David Lee, the eccentric genius with the golden heart. And it was that latter attribute which bonded us as lifelong friends. Dave’s positive, can-do attitude and approach to life coupled with his natural tendency to connect with every kind of person and make them feel good about themselves was a rare trait combination in my experience. Dave and I worked together on many projects over the years and co-authored several technical papers.
Beyond that professional/technical collaboration we used to meet several times a year over lunch or a cup of coffee and we would talk about virtually every topic under the sun, and I always came away inspired and happier, somehow. These meetings continued even after he became mostly immobile and homebound. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend Dave’s funeral services by his wife Margo last Friday (3/19/21), which, otherwise, was attended only by close family members, and to my surprise a mounted honor guard of the LAPD. May Dave’s contributions to our profession, industry and society be remembered and appreciated for a long time to come and may he rest in peace.