The Society’s 1991 President, James E. “Tom” Sawyer, P.E., Pres.91.ASCE, an influential bridge designer and infrastructure builder with works from Florida to Hong Kong, has died at 84.
Sawyer joined ASCE in 1956, and was active for years with the Florida Section. He served as ASCE’s president in 1991.
“Tom will be sorely missed by his many friends at ASCE, but his legacy will live on,” said ASCE Executive Director Thomas W. Smith III, ENV SP, CAE, F.ASCE. “We still use an ethics video he helped create, ‘The Case of Marvin Camper,’ and he had a distinguished career, marked by service, technical excellence, and the highest ethical standards.
“Our Society and profession benefited greatly from Tom’s leadership and generous service and commitment.”
Sawyer grew up in Albany, GA, and married his high school sweetheart, Shirley Neldon. He honed his professional skills during the Korean War as a lieutenant and company commander in the Second Engineering Group of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Following the war, Sawyer began work as a structural engineer at J.E. Greiner Company, moving to Tampa, FL. Thirty years later, he was Greiner’s president and CEO, serving for 10 years until his retirement in 1995.
Sawyer’s main strength was bridge design, and he contributed to several bridge design standards organizations. He was Greiner’s design team leader on many major long-span bridges, including Tampa Bay’s Sunshine Skyway and the Houston Ship Channel Bridge, as well as cable-stayed bridges in Charleston, SC, and Hong Kong.
Beyond bridges, many other major infrastructure projects benefited from Sawyer’s skills. These include the Tampa International Airport, Orlando International Airport, and NASA’s space shuttle landing facility at Cape Canaveral.
An active volunteer, Sawyer lent his skills to building wheelchair ramps. He also gave of his time at a local VA hospital, at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in San Antonio, FL, and with the Pasco County Jail ministry.
“He was a true Southern gentleman – his demeanor, his professionalism,” recalled Nancy Berson, ASCE’s director of Geographic Services, who worked with Sawyer during his leadership tenure.
His wife and a daughter, Melanie Sawyer Martin, preceded him in death. Survivors include a daughter, Patricia Sawyer Barron, a son, James Denman Sawyer, grandsons Jacob Barron and Carl Denman Sawyer, and granddaughter Rachel Barron Bowles.
Donations in Sawyer’s memory may be made to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, PO Box 875, San Antonio, FL 33576.