Development & Alumni Relations Office 

James Kirkpatrick (died on 5 April 2018 )

Obituary provided by Adrian Long, OBE, FREng

Jim was born in Belfast in 1940 and after school, he joined Shorts Brothers where he worked on various high profile aircraft and got a good grounding in structures. In 1972 he moved to the Roads Service, working on design and maintenance. In October 1973, he undertook the challenge of an Honours degree course in Civil Engineering at Queen’s University as a mature student. He had already passed the IStructE exam and so he only had to do two years of study. He graduated in 1975 as one of the top students in his class.

Three years later he was sponsored by the Roads Service to carry out research at Queen’s for an MSc on Bridges under the supervision of Professor Adrian Long, who had experience of bridge design in Toronto and bridge research in Kingston, Canada.  Prior to deciding on the topic of his research, they visited the leading researchers in the UK and Jim became involved in research on field testing of M-beam bridge decks. Ably supported by Alastair Thompson, a Research Officer at Queens, Jim produced some outstanding results; found an error in the widely used grillage analysis method; and produced design charts for the rapid design of M-beam bridge decks. As he had clearly shown that he was an excellent researcher, he was allowed to proceed directly to a PhD. Jim’s subsequent work on spaced M-beams involved close collaboration with Barry Rankin, another PhD student of Adrian’s. This involved model tests at Queen’s and full scale tests on a purpose built M-beam bridge in Co Down. This resulted in savings during the construction of the next M-beam bridge deck that more than covered the Roads Service’s investment in their sponsorship of Jim’s research at Queen’s. Jim successfully completed his PhD in 1982 and during his time at Queen’s published a number of papers in the Structural Journal and presented lectures on his research at international conferences. The Journal papers resulted in a number of awards, including two medals - just recognition for Jim’s outstanding research.

Jim returned to bridge design in Roads Service and then, in 1986, was transferred to Coleraine, where he remained to his retirement in 2000. Here, he was involved with Queen’s University again, in the field monitoring of the recently opened Foyle Bridge, the longest bridge in Northern Ireland. One relatively minor bridge that Jim designed was the pedestrian bridge over the Bann in Coleraine. Jim’s bridge, as it is sometimes described, is a fitting memorial to his structural engineering expertise, which he developed during his career. In parallel, he shared his knowledge of bridge design as a part-time lecturer at Queen’s and Ulster University.

After retirement, his expertise in bridge engineering was called upon by Adrian Long, who had in the 1990s developed a new method of constructing arch bridges, and needed help to prepare the patent application. The patent for the FlexArch was published in 2004 and then Jim acting as a consultant to the licensees in UK/Ireland, worked tirelessly with Abhey Gupta to get the system established.  In the past decade over 70 FlexiArch bridges have been installed and the system has won three National Awards in open competition with leading organisations in the construction industry. Without Jim’s input much less progress would have been made and we all owe Jim a great debt of gratitude.  We all acknowledge the enormous contribution Jim has made to our profession and will miss his structural insight/can do approach to challenging tasks.

Jim became a Fellow of the Institution of Structural Engineers in the 1980s and was elected Chairman of the Northern Ireland branch in the mid-1990s. He was an active member of the Council in London and contributed greatly to various sub-committees.

Unfortunately, Jim was diagnosed with an incurable degenerative illness in 2009 but with the full support of his family he carried this burden with great fortitude and patience.  Jim is survived by his wife Carol and his two sons Philip and Andrew and their families.  Our thoughts are with them at this time.

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