Freese and Nichols, Inc., mourns the loss of Lee Freese, a pioneering water supply pipeline/pump station engineer, extraordinary mentor and youngest son of our firm’s namesake Simon W. Freese. We also celebrate the indelible contributions Lee made during more than 60 years of service to our company and community.
Lee died March 15 at age 86 in Fort Worth. He is survived by Dana, his wife of 18 years; children Elizabeth, Robert and John; two stepchildren; and two grandchildren. A Celebration of His Life is scheduled for March 21 at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 1000 Penn St., in Fort Worth.
Throughout his six-decade career at Freese and Nichols, Lee embodied our LEADS values, always focused on professional excellence and relationship-building. He helped develop young employees to be leaders in their field and in the company, and he demonstrated the success that comes from nurturing client trust and collaborating with contractors on projects.
A hydraulics expert, Lee led many of the company’s largest and most complex water conveyance projects from the 1960s through the 1990s for some of FNI’s largest clients. Through these projects, he developed partnerships with many of our clients that have lasted for generations.
He also was devoted to the civil engineering profession and to Fort Worth, where he spent most of his life. At various times, he served on the boards of directors for the Fort Worth Opera Association, the Arts Council of Fort Worth, Saint Joseph Hospital, Plaza Medical Center and the Fort Worth Chamber Foundation.
His influence on Freese and Nichols was evident long after he stepped away from a daily project role. He continued to serve as a consultant and adviser, and those he mentored have shared the lessons they gained from him through their own work. To honor his exemplary dedication to guiding staff, the Lee B. Freese Excellence in Mentoring Award each year recognizes an employee who exemplifies outstanding support and encouragement for colleagues.
Lee was born Sept. 21, 1935, to Simon and Eunice Freese. As a high school student in Fort Worth, he did drafting and other such work at Freese and Nichols in the afternoons and over holidays, which gave him practical experience before he headed off to college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1958 and started with the company full-time that June.
During the first part of his Freese and Nichols career, Lee spent several years in the field to see the construction side of water supply projects from West Texas to Arkansas. That experience gave him invaluable insights into working with contractors and delivering for clients.
He later led the Pipeline and Pump Stations Group, playing leadership roles in the Cedar Creek, Richland-Chambers and O.H. Ivie water transmission systems. He was among the first to employ designs using steel pipe with a native backfill soil support system; adding polyurethane coating to prevent corrosion; welding pipeline joints from the inside after backfill; and using the S. Logan Kerr method of surge control on pipelines.
Among the company leaders Lee mentored as they built their technical and management experience was our current CEO, Brian Coltharp, along with Chief Business Development Officer Thomas Haster and Water & Wastewater Utilities/Transmission Practice Leader Rusty Gibson. Coltharp has recounted that one of Lee’s straightforward — but vital — pieces of advice was that doing a good job for a client is our best marketing tool.
The award is made annually to a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers who has made a definite contribution to the advancement of pipeline engineering. Lee’s nationally recognized technical expertise won him the Stephen D. Bechtel Pipeline Engineering Award in 2001.
He was a long-time member of the AWWA National Concrete Pressure Pipe Standards Committee and acted as chair for several years. This focus resulted in many mutually beneficial industry and client relationships.
“I was always amazed at the realm of relationships Lee had around Texas and across the country,” Coltharp said at a reception celebrating Lee’s 60th anniversary.
On many occasions, Lee would say that our business is a people business and FNI is blessed to have the most talented people in the industry. Lee said his idea of mentoring was “to watch the most talented people and see when they were ready for more responsibility.” If someone got more responsibility than they were ready for, he said, he would assist to make sure they succeeded.
“Lee loved seeing his mentees achieve success. He was very selfless in helping all of us,” Haster said. “This is why the Lee Freese Mentoring Award is such a perfect tribute to him.”
Lee’s advice at his 60th anniversary event offered a good summary of the attitude that underscores his legacy: “Be a good listener and don’t be arrogant,” he said. “Humility is the beginning of wisdom.”
Freese and Nichols, Inc., is a professional consulting firm serving clients across the Southeast and Southwest United States. Since 1894, we have planned, designed and managed public infrastructure projects with client-centered innovation in mind. We are the first engineering/architecture firm to receive the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.