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Tom Gibbs posthumously honored with inaugural Distinguished Alumnus Award

June 29, 2020

Many people dream of helping to preserve and protect the environment. Alumnus Tom Gibbs (BSCE ’54, MS ‘66) turned his dreams into a reality.

Alumnus Tom Gibbs

“Dad loved the outdoors, especially the forests and the abundant waters of the Pacific Northwest,” says Todd Gibbs about his father, who passed away in June 2019. “He really wanted to help preserve the scenery and beauty of the region he loved and called home.”

Gibbs is known for leading the clean-up of Lake Washington in the 1960s. In recognition of his life’s work, the CEE department has posthumously honored him with its first annual Distinguished Alumnus Award. CEE chair Laura Lowes founded the annual award to recognize the achievements of alumni in industry and show students how civil and environmental engineering degrees help create meaningful impact.

An advocate for environmental issues, especially clean water, Gibbs’s efforts to clean up Lake Washington and the Puget Sound while working at the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle helped to reverse the damage incurred during the 1950s when untreated wastewater flowed into many waterways. In recognition of his efforts, Gibbs was honored by the White House in 1971. He also earned national awards from the American Society of Civil Engineers and American Public Works Association for the development of innovative approaches to environmental challenges.

Gibbs later joined the engineering firm CH2M Hill, where he helped transform Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s polluted waterfront into a dynamic urban destination. He founded the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and also assisted in the development of the original Clean Water Act. Over the years, he was involved in many organizations, including the Seattle-King County Economic Development Council, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, and the Board of Coastal Environmental Systems. He was recognized as Engineer of the Year by both the Washington Society of Professional Engineers and the Consulting Engineers Council of Washington.

In honor of Gibbs’s accomplishments, he was awarded a UW College of Engineering Diamond Award for Distinguished Service to Industry in 2009. Committed to education, Gibbs and his wife, Jean, founded a fellowship to support students from developing countries who are passionate about returning to their country of origin to help advance clean drinking water.

“Dad would have been proud to be recognized,” says Todd Gibbs about the award. “But he also would have immediately identified a number of people who helped him achieve his successes.”