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Hank Parker, master of heavy construction, dies at 99

A veteran of mid-century highway and dam projects, Parker was enticed to Stanford by the opportunity to bring rigor to the construction industry.
Portrait of Henry Parker
Henry "Hank" W. Parker, 1924-2023

Henry “Hank” W. Parker, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering, died in Hanover, New Hampshire, on July 7, 2023. He was 99.

Parker joined the Stanford faculty on Jan. 1, 1963, after an influential 15-year career in the construction industry. He was a master of logistics and planning of large-scale highway and dam construction projects. He was recruited to the Stanford Construction Engineering & Management Program (known as the Sustainable Design and Construction Program today) by renowned Dean Fred Terman to provide graduate education for the thousands of engineers then completing the interstate highway system and the many dam projects dotting the arid Western states.

Parker’s best-known contribution to construction theory and practice was the 1988 book Productivity Improvement in Construction, co-authored with fellow Stanford professors Clark Oglesby and Greg Howell. It’s an “absolute classic” in the field, in the estimation of Martin Fischer, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. Many of the concepts and methods are still relevant today and can finally be demonstrated at scale due to recent advancements in sensing, computer vision, pattern recognition, and machine learning.

“Hank put the Stanford construction program on the map globally, both in academia and in industry,” said Fischer, who met Parker as a doctoral candidate in the late 1980s. “I experienced his big heart and sensed his boundless passion for the built environment and those who create it. He undoubtedly made construction safer, of higher quality, and more productive.”

During his Stanford career, Parker taught hundreds of eventual leaders in the field and the diaspora in his academic family tree now numbers in the thousands.

“Hank Parker was a fine teacher, an insightful researcher on ways to enhance safety and productivity in construction, and co-author of the classic book in the field,” remembered Raymond Levitt, a student of Parker’s in the 1970s and later colleague in civil engineering.

Work and teaching

Henry Whipple Parker was born May 31, 1924, in Goffstown, New Hampshire. Parker graduated early from Dartmouth College in 1945 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering as part of the Navy V-12 program. After serving in the Marines during World War II, he returned to graduate school at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth in 1947 where he earned his master’s degree in engineering. Parker then joined Winston Brothers Construction Co. of Minneapolis, where he worked until coming to Stanford in 1963, save for a two-year stint serving in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952.

His courses at Stanford included subject matter ranging from estimating concrete mix and form design to construction, surveying, human factors, and work improvement. He led seminars with no-nonsense titles like “Proven Contractor Methods for Saving Money.” To improve construction productivity, he perfected photographic approaches for recording and analyzing operations and even founded a company with several students, known appropriately as Timelapse, that made timelapse film/video cameras for the industry.

Parker was a Registered Civil Engineer in California and New Hampshire, elected as a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and a member of Sigma Xi, Phi Beta Kappa, and Tau Beta Pi.

Return to New Hampshire

Ever the New Hampshirite, Parker maintained a family farm in the White Mountains of his native state and would return every spring for the sap run to boil down his incomparable maple syrup. After early retirement in 1982, Parker continued to teach full time for several years, until he and his wife returned to New Hampshire.

“I can attest that Hank’s maple syrup was simply the best!” Fischer recalled. “We haven’t been able to enjoy store-bought maple syrup since we had a taste.”

He was predeceased by his wife of 69 years, Pauline “Polly” Parker, in 2021. He is survived by children Martha Parker of Palo Alto, California; David Parker of Aspen, Colorado; Jeffrey Parker of Concord, Massachusetts; Judith Parker of San Jose, California; five grandchildren, Ross, Whit, Annie, Ellie, and Will; and two great-grandchildren.

The family has planned a memorial service for Aug. 25 at Kendal at Hanover, the assisted living center where he lived. A family-and-friends celebration is set for Sept. 9 at his beloved farm in Campton, New Hampshire. In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Henry Whipple Parker can be made to the Stanford University Sustainable Design and Construction Program.

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