Jim Nichols, the longtime leader of Fort Worth engineering firm Freese and Nichols, died on Thursday, Feb. 11 at the age of 92.
Throughout his 66-year career at Freese and Nichols, Jim was instrumental in providing dependable water supplies to communities across the state.
Nichols had served as Chairman Emeritus of the Freese and Nichols Board since 2002. He previously held the leadership positions of Board Chairman (1988-2002) and President (1977-1988). Up through this year, he continued to consult with clients, lead executive client visits, teach professional ethics classes for Freese and Nichols University and consult with project teams.
In an interview for a Fort Worth Business profile in of Nichols in 2013, Freese and Nichols CEO Bob Pence, noted that the chairman emeritus is “a great role model for the young people around here.”
Early in his career, he worked alongside the partners for whom the firm is named, Simon W. Freese and Marvin C. Nichols, Jim Nichols’ father. After working for the firm as a rodman on survey crews while in high school, Nichols attended Texas A&M University in 1941. During World War II, he served stateside as a radar technician for the U.S. Army signal corps, then returned to A&M after the war. An active member of the university’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student chapter, Nichols earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering in 1949 and master’s in civil engineering in 1950.
He began his professional career with Freese and Nichols in 1950. From the beginning, Mr. Nichols worked closely with some of the firm’s oldest clients, including Tarrant County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, which became the Tarrant Regional Water District, and the Colorado River municipal Water District in West Texas. His first five years with the firm were spent in the field on a variety of West Texas projects. After relocating to Freese and Nichols’ Fort Worth headquarters in 1955, he continued to focus on projects for the growing cities of West Texas for the next 14 years. These included creating the multi-city water districts; helping cities to raise project funding; working on the design phase of the dams, pipelines and pump stations; and providing construction services.
Nichols became a firm Partner in 1956, specializing in water supply; water and wastewater treatment; and roads, bridges and airports. In his role as Principal-in-Charge of design, planning and construction administration for many water supply projects, he was instrumental in providing solutions to communities across the state in need of a dependable water supply.
Nichols was involved in several notable projects around the state. He served as Principal-in-Charge and consulting engineer for the 1982 design of the Richland Creek dam, spillway and water transmission facilities. This project resulted in the 44,750-acre
Richland-Chambers Reservoir, the largest lake in the system supplying Fort Worth and Tarrant County, and the third-largest lake wholly within Texas. At six miles long with a maximum height of 93 feet, it is one of the largest earthen dams in Texas.
Nichols served as the Client Representative to the city of Abilene for the Lake O.H. Ivie Water Transmission Facility. The firm’s design and construction management for this $40 million project, which had two pump stations and 51 miles of 36-inch pipeline, earned the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award from the Texas Section of the ASCE and was nominated for a national ASCE award. The transmission system provided Abilene with a new water source. It helped alleviate concerns about water supply during drought and improve overall water quality.
But water projects were hardly the only area where Nichols had an impact. He was also instrumental in the completion of several successful aviation projects, including the development of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. He served as chairman of the Aviation Committee for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, as well as Principal-in-Charge of Freese and Nichols’ original work at DFW Airport in the early 1970s. More than 40 years later, Freese and Nichols currently leads program management efforts for the $3.2 billion Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program.
Nichols has also been heavily involved in various professional organizations and in community issues.
One of his favorite sayings – “Leave the woodpile a little higher than you found it,” was part of his personal as well as professional philosophy.
In 2000, Nichols was appointed to the Texas Board of Professional Engineers by Gov. George W. Bush; he was later named chairman by Gov. Rick Perry. In 2004, he was named an honorary member of ASCE, the organization’s highest honor. Additionally, Mr. Nichols has played an active role in the National Society of Professional Engineers, the Texas Society of Professional Engineers and the Texas Council of Engineering Companies.
Nichols was a Life Member of the National Water Resources Association and served as President of the Texas Water Conservation Association. He was appointed to a Texas Legislature special advisory committee to study the formation and operating procedures of state water districts and river authorities. He was also involved in water resource organizations including the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Association of Texas.
A longtime supporter of educational institutions, he served as a Trustee of the Texas A&M Research Foundation and chaired Texas Wesleyan University’s annual campaign drive. Additionally, he was elected to the University of Texas at Arlington chapter of Chi Epsilon, the national civil engineering honor fraternity for professional excellence, and received an honorary Ph.D. from Texas Wesleyan. His extensive leadership roles include chairing the boards for All Saints Episcopal Hospital (now Baylor All Saints
Medical Center), the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Tarrant County. He was only the second consulting engineer to hold the Chamber’s highest volunteer position; the first was his father, Marvin Nichols. Jim Nichols also held leadership positions with the Panther Boys’ Club, Easter Seal Society of Tarrant County, YMCA, North Texas Commission and Downtown Rotary Club of Fort Worth, among others.
In recognition of his outstanding commitment to community service, Freese and Nichols established the James R. Nichols Community Service Award, given annually to the employee who best exemplifies the dedication demonstrated by Nichols.
Honors and Accolades
Nichols has been honored locally and nationally with numerous professional, humanitarian and civic awards.
Both the TSPE and TSPE’s Fort Worth Chapter named Mr. Nichols “Engineer of the Year” for 1983. The awards recognize his outstanding achievement in technical and professional work and community involvement. Nichols and his brother, Robert L. (Bob) Nichols, P.E., were jointly honored as Fellow Members of the Texas Engineering Foundation at the TSPE annual conference in Dallas in 2013.
In 1982, Nichols and Freese and Nichols were honored by the prestigious Newcomen Society for “substantial steps that have contributed to the progress of mankind.” Quoting from the remarks made by the society, “As president of the firm of Freese and Nichols, Inc., Mr. Nichols has played an important role in the growth and development of Texas and Fort Worth.”,
Nichols was born June 29, 1923, to Marvin and Ethel Nichols. He was an alumnus of Fort Worth’s Paschal High School and Texas A&M University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering. He is survived by Billie, his wife of 71 years; three children, Judy, Richard and John; and six grandchildren. His brother, Bob, died in May 2015.
Thompson’s Harveson & Cole Funeral Home
702 Eighth Avenue
Fort Worth, Texas
Tuesday, February 16
5 to 7 p.m.
Arborlawn United Methodist Church
5001 Briarhaven Road
Fort Worth, Texas
Wednesday, February 17
3 p.m. with a reception to follow
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