Boyd Paulson Jr., civil engineering professor, dies of cancer

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Civil engineering Professor Boyd Paulson, seen here in a 2004 photo, joined the university faculty in 1974. His research and teaching interests included the construction of affordable housing.

Boyd C. Paulson Jr., the Charles H. Leavell Professor of Civil Engineering at Stanford University and longtime advocate for affordable housing, died of colon cancer on Dec. 1 at his home in Menlo Park, Calif. He was 59. His wife and children were at his side.

"Boyd had been struggling with cancer and various treatments this past year," said Richard Luthy, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, where Paulson had been a faculty member since 1974. "His strength through this ordeal was inspiration for us all. In addition, his research and class work in recent years on affordable housing provides a role model for 'a life well spent.'"

A civil engineer who worked on major construction projects, including the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, Paulson also was an authority on the design and construction of affordable housing. He served on the boards of two of the Bay Area's leading nonprofit programs for low-income homeowners—Peninsula Habitat for Humanity and the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition.

In addition to volunteering his own time, Paulson enlisted the help of engineering students through graduate courses that required hands-on construction of new homes at Peninsula Habitat for Humanity building sites. For his efforts, the university awarded Paulson a 2004 Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize, which is given annually to faculty members who have demonstrated a personal commitment to community service and have engaged students to integrate academic scholarship with significant volunteer work.

"One thing you quickly learn when you work in the community and get involved with lots of people doing volunteer efforts is that there's a lot more people doing so much more than you do," Paulson said upon receiving the award on March 31, 2004.

"Boyd Paulson was a gracious, kind, intelligent and caring colleague, professor, adviser and friend," said Raymond E. Levitt, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. "I will always be inspired and guided by his consistent, flawless integrity in all matters, professional and private. The way in which he lived each phase of his life, and the quiet courage and dignity with which he managed the end of his life, will serve as a lasting beacon of inspiration to all who knew him."

Early bouts with cancer

Paulson was born in Providence, R.I., on March 1, 1946, the oldest of five children. His father became a project manager in heavy construction, and the family moved frequently, often on very short notice, to various projects around the world. In 1962 and 1963, he and his family lived in a remote construction camp in Australia, where the nearest high school was two hours away by bus. It was at school that he met his future wife, Jane Kingdon, who was in his graduating class. The two went their separate ways after graduation in December 1963. Jane remained in Australia to attend the University of Sydney, while Boyd enrolled at the University of Utah. In 1965, he transferred to Stanford, eventually earning three degrees in civil engineering: B.S. '67, M.S. '69 and Ph.D. '71.

At age 21, just after completing his undergraduate degree at Stanford, Paulson was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph system. He became one of the early patients of cancer researchers Dr. Henry Kaplan and Dr. Saul Rosenberg at Stanford Hospital. "In the field of medicine, their two names are linked as the pioneers who led the cure of Hodgkin's disease and related lymphomas so that thousands of people are alive today," Jane Paulson said.

Shortly after completing chemotherapy, Boyd received a visit from Jane, who by this time had immigrated to the United States. The couple was married a few months later on Feb. 12, 1970.

"Although Boyd was sad to have to deal with this more recent and unrelated colon cancer, he and I have been very grateful that we had nearly 36 very happy years together," she said. "Boyd said that the discomfort of the treatments he received over the last two years were perhaps one-twentieth of what he went through back in the sixties, and that is testament to the progress that has been made in oncology."

Professional career

After working as an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Illinois from 1972 to 1974, Paulson returned to Stanford to join the faculty in the graduate Construction Engineering and Management Program in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He remained on the Stanford faculty for 31 years, during which time he also served as a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo (1978), the Technical University of Munich (1983), the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland (1990-91) and the University of Hawaii (1998).

He is the author or co-author of two books and more than 100 papers, and his research and teaching interests included the construction of affordable housing, international construction and finding new applications for computers.

"Boyd's prescient vision of computer-aided construction engineering in the early 1970s foreshadowed much of the research being carried out in the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering at Stanford three decades later," Levitt said. "He guided multiple Ph.D. students through exciting and challenging cross-disciplinary research with a light touch and with 'kind firmness.'"

Throughout his career, Paulson maintained close ties with the heavy and industrial construction industry, serving as principal investigator on more than 20 projects funded by the federal government and others. He worked on two of the largest U.S. urban rail projects in the second half of the 20th century—BART, in Northern California, and Metrorail, in Washington, D.C.—as a researcher focusing on lessening the disruption caused by construction in urban areas.

His other construction projects included a dam and tunnel on Australia's Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, a pipeline in Alaska and a six-month analysis of urban tunneling in Japan. In 1995, he volunteered to oversee construction of Peninsula Habitat for Humanity's $2 million, 24-unit condominium project for low-income residents in East Palo Alto, Calif., and eventually joined the organization's board of directors. He also was on the board of the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition, one of California's largest nonprofit providers of affordable housing, which was launched in the late 1960s by members of the Stanford community and now houses 13,000 low-income residents in 75 developments.

Affiliations and awards

Paulson was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Society for Engineering Education, the Urban Land Institute and the Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Xi honor societies. He chaired the ASCE Committee on Professional Construction Management from 1974 to 1977 and the National Science Foundation's Civil and Environmental Engineering Division Advisory Committee from 1983 to 1989. He also served as vice chair of the U.S. National Committee on Tunneling Technology (1986-89) and the National Research Council Panel for Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (1995-98).

His professional honors include ASCE's 1980 Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize, Germany's Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Fellowship in 1983, and ASCE's 1984 Construction Management Award and 1993 Peurifoy Construction Research Award. In 1984, Paulson was named a distinguished scholar by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China, and in 1986 he was given the Project Management Institute's Distinguished Contributions Award. In 1990-91, he received senior faculty research and teaching scholarships from the Fulbright Foundation and the British Council. He was elected to the National Academy of Construction in 2001.

Paulson is survived by his father, Boyd C. Paulson; wife, Jane Paulson, and son, Jeffrey Paulson, all of Menlo Park, Calif.; daughter, Laura Paulson, of Culver City, Calif.; and sisters Virginia Vadnais of Moraga, Calif.; Beth Krewedl of Tahoe Donner, Calif.; and Kathy Icenogle of Dunstable, Mass.

A memorial service is planned for January 2006. In lieu of flowers, the Paulson family suggests that donations be made to Doctors Without Borders; Peninsula Habitat for Humanity in Redwood City, Calif.; the Community Association for Rehabilitation in Palo Alto, Calif.; or any favorite charity.

Geoff Koch, a former intern at the Stanford News Service, contributed to this article.