February 13, 2008
James M. Gere, civil engineer and founder of Stanford's Blume Earthquake Engineering Center, dead at 82
Stanford University Professor Emeritus James M. Gere, 82, who taught engineering for 34 years and co-founded the John A. Blume Earthquake Engineering Center, died Jan. 30 in Portola Valley from a rare form of cancer.
Gere was known for his outgoing manner, his teaching in and out of the classroom, his athleticism and his skill in civil engineering. "He was, without a doubt, the finest engineer and professor and mentor and adviser any student or faculty member ever had, period," said Haresh Shah, a student of Gere's who became a Stanford professor of engineering and retired in 1998.
Gere and Shah founded the Blume Earthquake Engineering Center in 1974, and they co-directed it until 1986. Gere also became the founding head in 1980 of the Stanford Committee on Earthquake Preparedness, which urged campus members to brace and strengthen office equipment, furniture and other things that could pose a hazard if the ground shook.
Gere contributed to civil engineering and earthquake research with a stream of articles and technical papers. He wrote nine books on engineering, and mathematical theory and applications. He co-authored a well-known text, Mechanics of Materials, in 1972 and was the sole author of later editions. Shah called this "the most popular book used by everyone in the world who is a mechanical or civil engineer."
Gere was not only a pioneer on paperhe and Shah were among the first foreigners to travel in 1980 to Tangshan, China, to study the devastating aftermath left by the major earthquake that shook the region in 1976.
Gere came to Stanford as a doctoral student in 1952, when he was awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship. The university offered him a faculty spot in 1954, after he completed his doctorate in applied mechanics, and Gere began his 34-year career of engaging his students and pioneering earthquake technology. From 1960 to 1970, he was associate dean of the School of Engineering, and from 1967 to 1972, he served as chairman of the Department of Civil Engineering. He retired from Stanford in 1988.
Gere's track record at Stanford wasn't just academic, but literalhe was an avid runner, and he helped to form a running group for university members, affectionately called "The Angell
Field Ancients," because Gere and his founding colleagues liked to poke fun at their age. The group gained popularity over the years, and graduate students, faculty and staff joined the pack. He tackled the Boston Marathon in 1973, at age 48, finishing in three hours and 13 minutes.
He also hiked frequently, sometimes 50 miles a day, and regularly visited Yosemite and the Grand Canyon national parks. He took students, colleagues and loved ones out into the wilderness and shared his knowledge of geology and the outdoors. Shah recalls that some people called Gere "the ranger," because he hiked skillfully and spouted facts with a park ranger's acumen, often wearing a brimmed ranger hat. His wanderlust and boundless energy took him to Mount Everest in 1986, where he and Shah hiked to the base camp.
Gere was born June 14, 1925, in Syracuse, N.Y. He joined the Army Air Corps at 17 and worked as a bombsight mechanic for three years. He earned undergraduate and master's degrees in civil engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1949 and 1951, respectively. He worked as an instructor and later as a research associate for Rensselaer between 1949 and 1952.
Gere married his high school sweetheart, Janice Platt, in June 1946, and they were married 61 years at the time of his death.
He is survived by his wife and their three children: daughter Susan and sons William and David; grandchildren Clifford and Rachel Gere of Hollister and Dewitt Durham of Palo Alto; and his brothers Frederick of Roseville and William of Cheshire.
Services will be held Saturday, Feb. 23, at 2 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, 1985 Louis Road, at Embarcadero Road, where Gere and his wife became members in 1952 and where Gere was deacon in the 1960s.
Hayley Rutger is a science-writing intern at the Stanford News Service.