Dixon Rea, Civil Engineering: Los Angeles


Dixon Rea died of cancer on February 28, 1985, his 45th birthday. His untimely death meant the loss of a conscientious and dedicated member of the newly established Civil Engineering Department at UCLA. He leaves his wife, Katherine, whom he married in 1974, and his daughter, Anna, born in 1983.

Dixon Rea was born into a family of four brothers and two sisters in the city of Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, in the year 1940. He studied at Down High School and at the Queen's University of Belfast where he was awarded a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering with First Class Honors in 1961. He continued his studies in the area of structural dynamics, earning his Ph.D. degree in 1965. During that period he acted as a teaching assistant and he developed a fondness for teaching and research. His faculty advisor at the time noted that “Even at this early period of his career he showed a love of teaching and research, together with an ability to do careful and meticulous work that suggested he would make a lasting contribution to his field.” Interestingly, in his doctoral literature survey the first publication he found in his field of interest was written by a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, with whom he would subsequently have close collaboration.

Dr. Rea came to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1965 as a research engineer in the Earthquake Engineering Research Center. Over a period of approximately 10 years he carried out numerous experimental investigations on structural components and on full-scale structures to determine their dynamic behavior. The ultimate goal of these studies was to improve seismic resistant designs. During this same period he played a key role in the development and operation of the earthquake simulator facility at the Earthquake Engineering Research Center. He was a principal investigator for several of the first experimental studies conducted at this facility. His contributions to the field of earthquake engineering while at Berkeley were indeed outstanding, and they earned him a worldwide reputation as one of the leading experimental structural analysts.


In 1974, Dixon Rea accepted a position as associate professor in the Mechanics and Structures Department at UCLA. His interest in structural design, structural dynamics, and earthquake engineering led him to develop a second earthquake simulator with which he continued his research on small-scale steel structures. All Dixon's endeavors were carefully planned and methodically and deliberately carried out. His reputation and quest for quality combined with sound judgment when it came to practical engineering considerations resulted in several prestigious consulting and advisory tasks in Europe and Japan as well as in the United States.

Perhaps Dixon Rea's largest contribution came as a teacher. He was one of the finest and most effective teachers in the department. His lectures were well organized and he was blessed with an ability to arouse students' curiosity. Patience and genuine interest in students' understanding the subject made him a favorite advisor for graduate students in structural engineering.

Dixon Rea was instrumental in the planning, organization, and establishment of the Civil Engineering Department in 1983. He became a full professor in 1984. Sadly, he did not live to enjoy the fruits of his efforts, both at UCLA and with his family.

We remember Dixon Rea as a gentle, shy friend with a keen mind and fine sense of humor. He was greatly admired and respected by his colleagues and students, not only for his perceptive understanding of his subject matter and excellent skills as a teacher and research supervisor, but also, and maybe more, for his sense of compassion and devotion to his students.

W.G. Godden R.B. Nelson J. Penzien P.V. Lade