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Frank Perkins, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering, dies at 82

Longtime professor and former dean for graduate education had lasting impacts on civil engineering and teaching at MIT.
Frank Perkins
Frank Perkins

Frank E. Perkins, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering and former associate provost and dean for graduate education at MIT, died March 5 at age 82 following a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

The son of Frank Hall Perkins and Ethel (Newsome) (Perkins) Knight, Perkins was a 1951 graduate of Brockton High School, in Brockton, Massachusetts, where he served on the student Executive Committee and received the Edwin P. Linfield scholarship. He later attended MIT, where he earned bachelor’s (1955), master’s (1959), and ScD (1966) degrees, all in the field of civil engineering. 

With the exception of two years’ active duty with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — much of which was spent supervising airfield construction in Greenland — the major portion of Perkins’ career was spent at MIT, where he was appointed to the faculty in 1966. He subsequently served as head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; associate provost; and, for 12 years, as dean for graduate education. His principal research and teaching interests were in the areas of hydraulics, hydrology, and water resource analysis, with special emphasis on the development of computer models.  He also conducted research on water resources development in several South American countries, and on issues of dam safety in the United States.

Perkins took a particular interest in the improvement of teaching at MIT and was instrumental in creating an annual teacher-training workshop for graduate student teaching assistants. By his admission, his proudest achievement was his receipt, in 1965, of MIT’s Goodwin Medal, which is given annually in recognition of “conspicuously effective teaching by a member of the graduate student teaching staff.”

While serving as dean for graduate education, he was active in the Association of Graduate Schools (AGS) in the Association of American Universities, and served for one term as the AGS national president. In 1995, Perkins was honored by MIT’s graduate students through their creation of the Frank E. Perkins Award for Excellence in Graduate Advising, which is given each year to a professor who has served as an excellent advisor and mentor for graduate students.

In 1977, Perkins served on the National Research Council’s Committee on the Safety of Dams and was chair of the Federal Dam Safety Independent Review Panel in 1978. He was president of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section (BSCES) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 1981, and served on its board of directors from 1978 until 1983. He played an important role in the creation of Boston Society of Civil Engineers’ Computer Division and ASCE’s Management Division. In 1982, and again in 1992, he received BSCES’s Ralph W. Horne Award, which recognizes unpaid public service.

In addition to his active roles in ASCE, BSCES, and AGS, Perkins was at various times an active member of the International Association for Hydraulic Research, the American Water Resources Association, and the American Geophysical Union. He served on the Board of Visitors to the Air Force Institute of Technology, the Board of Foster Wheeler Corporation, and the Board of Managers of the Evanswood Center for Older Adults.

Perkins chaired the Brockton Conservation Commission for a period of five years (1972-77) and later, from 1996 to 2003, served as chair of the City of Brockton’s state-mandated Water Commission. Under his leadership of these commissions, the city made significant progress through the purchase of three parcels of conservation land and expanded the system’s safe yield through addition of a modern desalination plant.

Known to many of his friends as “Ed,” Perkins spent most of his life as a resident of Brockton. Since 2004, he and his wife of 59 years, Geraldine “Gerry” (Gurney) Perkins, had lived in the Stone Meadow community of Bridgewater. He was a lifelong member of the First Baptist Church of Brockton, where he served as deacon, trustee, youth adviser, and participant in numerous other ad hoc activities.

In addition to his wife, Perkins is survived by his son, David, daughter-in-law Jennifer Ramsey, and their children, Zoe, Max, and Lucy of Kensington, New Hampshire; and son James and his daughter, Olivia, of Avon, New York. He is also survived by a sister, Betty Gilson of Bridgewater, Massachusetts; a brother, Robert Perkins of Lakeville, Massachusetts; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be held on Friday, March 18, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Dahlborg-MacNevin Funeral Home, 647 Main Street, Brockton. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 19 at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Brockton, 256 Forest Avenue, Brockton. Interment will take place at Pine Hill Cemetery, West Bridgewater, immediately following the funeral service.

In lieu of flowers, individuals are invited to contribute to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, 1359 Broadway, Suite 1509, New York, NY 10018.

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