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Alan Richard Kemp

Alan Kemp was born in London in 1940 and came to South Africa as a boy. He was educated at King Edward VII school in Johannesburg where he matriculated in 1957. He studied Civil Engineering at Wits, graduating (cum laude) in 1961 and winning the Chamber of Mines Gold Medal and postgraduate scholarship for the best engineering student. He then pursued a Masters Degree at Wits and was awarded an MSc (Eng) in 1964. In the same year he took up a postgraduate scholarship at Cambridge and was awarded a PhD in January 1967.

He joined the steel structural and railway rolling stock manufacturers, Dorman Long (Africa) Ltd, then (in 1967) the largest steel fabricator in South Africa. His rise in the company was meteoric, encompassing positions as design engineer and contracts engineer responsible for the construction of the first Boeing 747 hangar at the then Jan Smuts Airport from 1969 to 1971. The hangar, one of the largest single-span steel structures built anywhere in the world at the time, is still in service at what is now O R Tambo Airport. In 1971, at the age of 37, he was appointed group consulting engineer and engineering manager and, in 1974, manufacturing manager of Dorman Long’s Railway Rolling Stock Division. In this position he managed two large factories, employing 4 000 people and with a peak production of 100 wagons and two locomotives per week.

In 1976, the Department of Civil Engineering at Wits was fortunate to attract Alan Kemp to succeed Professor Alan Ockleston in the Chair of Structural Engineering, a chair he occupied until his retirement in 2003.

An active academic, Kemp led by example in the way he engaged with his teaching, research and professional activities. He also made a major contribution to the management and administrative functions of the University. He served two terms as Head of the Department of Civil Engineering, was Dean of Graduate Studies in 1983 and Dean of the then Faculty of Engineering in 1984, and again from 1990 to 1992. He was elected a Senate Member of Council in 1992 and served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor from 1994 to 1998 and as Vice-Principal in 1997 and 1998.

Soon after taking the chair of Structural Engineering Kemp formulated a programme of postgraduate courses leading to the Graduate Diploma in Engineering, the MSc (Eng) and the MEng. He coordinated the programme until his retirement and personally taught, on average, two postgraduate courses each year. He also supervised 21 MSc (Eng) and 10 PhD students.

The evidence of Kemp’s extensive research is contained in nearly 40 full-length papers in refereed structural engineering research journals and a similar number published in the proceedings of structural engineering conferences. He maintained a B rating in the FRD Core Programme from 1994 until his retirement. He also served on the editorial boards of the journals Constructional Steel Research (London) and Structural Engineering International.

In addition, Kemp carried a full undergraduate and postgraduate teaching load as well as participating regularly in Continuing Engineering Education courses in which he was an innovative and dedicated teacher, both in classroom interaction with students and in supervising research students. Some of his journal publications relate to new ways of teaching structural engineering at university and his local conference and workshop presentations include a strong push for strategies to increase the participation and success rates of black engineering students. He chaired the original Committee on Academic Support in the Faculty of Engineering from 1979.

Kemp contributed to the establishment of one of the best structural engineering teaching laboratories for developing fundamental understanding of the discipline in undergraduate students. More recently, he has been active in linking these laboratory exercises with computer-based programmes to enhance students’ competence in computer analysis of complex, statically indeterminate structures.

Kemp served on the Council and the Executive Committee of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering and was elected President of the Institution in 1991. He also chaired the Civil Engineering Education and Training Committee for ten years and a Joint Professions Committee on Education Policy for Technology. He served on and chaired several committees of the South African Bureau of Standards concerned with formulating and writing codes of practice for the design of steel structures and was Chairman of the Loading Code Committee for 15 years. The profession honoured him by electing him an Honorary Fellow of the South African Institute of Civil Engineering and an Honorary Life Member of the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction.

Among the more important issues he dealt with during his term as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering were the need to increase access for black students to engineering, and the associated academic development needs. He facilitated and encouraged the practice of small group tutorials in some of the high-failure courses at first and second year level across the faculty. He supported the Students’ Engineering Council in its efforts to introduce and administer Supplemental Instruction. He led the negotiating team which successfully raised money from the Anglo-American Chairman’s Fund for the introduction of the Engineering stream in the College of Science and the Pre-University Bursary Scheme.

At postgraduate level, Kemp initiated the introduction of a coursework Masters and steered it through the difficult process of culture change in the faculty. He initiated and developed the Division of Continuing Engineering Education (CEE), chairing the CEE Committee for many years and introducing the funding of overseas visiting lecturers from CEE funds.

Kemp’s term as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Finance and Administration) straddled a period of significant change and constrained state funding. He nurtured the University’s assets carefully and significantly influenced the income from non-core activities. He instituted full disclosure briefing sessions on the budgets and made the complex funding of the University comprehensible to the Wits community.

During his period in office he was called upon to act in more than one portfolio for months at a time. When succession plans were delayed he took on the added responsibility of the portfolios of other deputy vice-chancellors. For some time he held three portfolios and acted for periods as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Affairs). All these roles were performed efficiently and reliably, while he continued to sustain elements of his teaching and research activities.

Alan Kemp’s outstanding contribution as an academic and an administrator have been recognised internationally by his peers. He is a member of the Research Committee of the Institute of Structural Engineers, London, and member of the Steering Committee for the US Engineering Foundation Conferences on Composite Construction. He has acted as a reviewer for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom.

The University tonight honours Alan Richard Kemp for his exceptional service to higher education, research and the practice of engineering by awarding him its highest honour, the Degree of Doctor of Science in Engineering honoris causa.