Frederick A. Webster
April 18, 1945-Oct. 11, 2015
Menlo Park, California
Submitted by Brendan Webster
Frederick A. Webster, also known as Tic, was a family man with three grown children, Alex Webster Guiney, Kendall Wallace Webster, and Dillon Brian Thomas Webster; two grandchildren, Darwin Jane Guiney and Huxley James Guiney; and a wife of 47 years, Brendan O'Connor Webster. He died in his home, surrounded by his immediate family and his brother and sister-in-law, Tom Webster and Gretchen Zee, on Oct. 11, 2015. He told his family that he had had a good life, had no regrets, and no list of things undone. He did work that he enjoyed, particularly rehabilitation of California's historic adobe missions; and spent time in nature, often fishing or hiking with one of his children. He loved California's mountains and took his family on regular camping trips, where they learned to appreciate and care for nature. He was the best of dads, solid as a mountain for his kids through the challenges of growing up, always present at their school and sporting events, always available to listen to them. He served on the board of directors of Peninsula School in Menlo Park, when his children were in attendance, and coached AYSO soccer.
Tic grew up in Tucson, Arizona. He completed undergraduate school at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1967, and received a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Stanford University in 1972, a time of upheaval during the Vietnam War. He was a conscientious objector, informed by his Quaker upbringing in Tucson at the Pima Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. His principled, but softly presented views regarding war, led to many thoughtful moments that were especially consequential in the lives of his fellow students. He fulfilled his military obligation through alternative work as director of the Youth Development Program of Santa Clara Countyâ€™s Friends Outside, a nonprofit agency that provided support for prison inmates and their families. Also while at Stanford, he taught pottery as part of the Creativity House program and became a prolific ceramicist.
His professional career spanned over 40 years in civil engineering, including structural analysis and design, research and teaching, testing and code development for earthen building construction, seismic rehabilitation of historic earthen structures, applied probability and statistics, and engineering investigations and evaluations. In 1975, after leaving his appointment as assistant professor at the University of Illinois Department of Materials Engineering in Chicago, Fred returned to the Bay Area where he worked as a project engineer for the Engineering Decision Analysis Company, and later as an associate at Jack Benjamin and Associates. In 1993 he founded Earthen Building Technologies in Menlo Park, California, which began his private consulting career. Fred authored over 150 technical reports related to engineering investigations, research and development, with support from the Getty Conservation Institute, The National Trust of the State of California, National Science Foundation and the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, to name a few. Professional organizations which Fred supported, and was supported by, included the California Mission Studies Association, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Friends of Historic San Antonio Mission (Board of Directors), Structural Engineers Association of Northern California, the Earth Builder's Guild, Cornerstones Community Partnerships in Santa Fe New Mexico, Western Construction Consultants Association, International Conference of Building Officials, and CRATerre in Grenoble, France.
Historic buildings in California for which Fred provided structural designs included Mission San Miguel, San Luis Obispo; Mission San Antonio de Padua, Jolon; San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey; Castro Adobe, Watsonville; Mission San Luis Rey, Oceanside; Bolcoff Adobe, Wilder Ranch State Park; Adobe Court House, Shafter; Lydecker Adobe, Aptos; Leese-Fitch Adobe, Sonoma; Salvador Vallejo Adobe, Sonoma; O'Hara Adobe, Los Angeles; Milk House Adobe, Sonoma; Russell/Wagstaff Adobe, Menlo Park; Singson/Ridley Adobe, Menlo Park; Bradbury House Adobe, Los Angeles; Flood Park Adobe, Menlo Park; Minor Adobe, San Diego County; and Stanford University following the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. In New Mexico Fred provided structural designs for San Antonio del Rio Colorado Church, Questa; Santo Domingo Trading Post, Santo Domingo; San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe; and the Armijo house, Las Cruces. Fred also provided the structural design of Sanford Winery in Santa Barbara County.
Fundamental to Fred's engineering work, and especially important to his interest in rehabilitation of adobe structures in California, was his fervor for statistics, particularly Bayesian Statistics, which informed him in matters of strength requirements in earthquake risk areas. His passion for probability gave him access to projects involving construction defects and often took him to the court room where he gave expert witness regarding sampling procedures to make predictions regarding the damage.
Fred is missed by his family, friends, and colleagues, for his logical mind, and for his determination, dependability, dedication and interest in their personal lives. In his memorial service, held on Dec. 6, 2015 at the Castro Adobe in Watsonville, California, his friends and family named him a gentle giant, a good hugger and an earth building genius. He was alive to the beauty of the earth, knew himself to be made wholly of the same stuff as the earth, brought the earth to his art and his engineering, and wanted to be returned to it after his death by way of his children and the wind.