Robert Clark Ewing, a structural engineer in demand during America’s rapidly growing postwar years, and an expert on foundations who shored up famed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty’s house, has died at 99.
Ewing, P.E., F.ASCE, “Bob” to his friends, was a dedicated engineer whose trail of works took him from Seattle to the Willamette Valley in Oregon through Memphis, Tennessee, and down to Jackson, Mississippi.
Born in Salem, Oregon, Ewing received a degree in civil engineering from Oregon State University in 1943. Nearsighted vision prevented his enlistment in the military to help fight World War II, but he was able to contribute to the war effort by going to work for Boeing in Seattle, where he aided in the design of the B-29 bomber. He served as Boeing’s engineer liaison with General Motors plants in the South and Midwest that were retooled to build the bomber’s engines. While in Memphis, he met his future wife, Christine, to whom he was married for more then 60 years until her death in 2006.
Now used to moving frequently, Ewing returned to Seattle, where he left Boeing to work for regional construction companies building bridges, schools, clinics and other community infrastructure. Then it was back to Memphis to work for L and M Construction Company. He then joined the the MT Reed Construction Company in Jackson, where he built flood walls, bridges, schools, airport terminals and runways, and other vital community infrastructure.
Developing an expertise in Mississippi’s volatile Yazoo clay, which makes building foundations and roadways unstable due to its rapid expansion in wet weather and contraction in dry weather, Ewing founded the the Ewing Foundation Company in 1968. Ewing received patents for special equipment that could drill through the clay 40 to 60 feet to anchor foundation pilings in stable soils. Ewing’s firm stabilized foundations of all kinds for 26 years. In 1979, Welty met Ewing and commissioned him to design and implement foundation repairs to the back section of her house.
He sold the firm in 1994. From then through 2010, at age 90, Ewing worked as a consultant to a variety of clients on their structural foundations.
After Welty’s death in 2001, the state of Mississippi and the Eudora Welty Foundation began a restoration of her home, which required additional extensive foundation repairs. Due to Ewing’s previous work, they sought him out to do the work, which the ASCE Life Member documented in a paper for a special issue of ASCE’s “Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities.”
Ewing was active within his church and with the Mississippi Council on Epilepsy, where he served a term as president.