In Memoriam: Dr. William Kaye (Bill) Oldham

Tuesday, October 27, 2020 | By Lee Yang
in memoriam dr. william kaye bill oldham

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. William Kaye Oldham (Bill to his friends and colleagues.) Bill died peacefully on Tuesday, Oct. 6th at his home in Merville, B.C.—just a few miles from where he was born.

Born in Cumberland on Vancouver Island, BC on May 27, 1936, Bill graduated with a BASc in Civil Engineering from UBC and completed his graduate studies at the University of Texas-Austin. After spending a few years working at Stanley & Associates in Edmonton, Bill joined the UBC Department of Civil Engineering as a faculty member in 1968.

"Like several other faculty members in the Department, I was hired by Bill when he was Head of the Department. When I arrived in Vancouver from California, he did not hesitate in offering me a place to stay in his home until I could find a place for my family. That single gesture and the friendship that we developed over the years is something that I will always cherish. Bill was the epitome of what the Department of Civil Engineering is: a friendly place to work and growth." - Dr. Carlos Estuardo Ventura, Professor & Director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Facility (EERF)

Bill made significant contributions during his time here. Shortly after joining the Department, he headed the development of a graduate program in Pollution Control and Waste Management. The program later evolved into the Environmental Engineering program and in 1985, under his direction, became the first ever interdisciplinary program of its kind in Canada.

Bill, more than anyone, was responsible for building this program into a “power house” not only in Canada, but globally as well.

Bill served as Department Head from 1984 to 1992 and was the founding member of the Environmental Research Group. In this capacity, he built up the departmental laboratory facilities and helped recruit faculty members.

“I have very special memories of Bill. He is definitely a large part of the reason that I came to UBC, and that I stayed. When I came to interview he even picked me up from the airport and hosted me overnight at his house. Always a smile on his face and a positive perspective. May he rest in peace.” – Dr. Gregory Lawrence, Professor & Tier I Canada Research Chair

Throughout his career, Dr. Oldham was driven by his passion for reducing the negative impact of human waste. Not only did he pioneer a large body of research, he was instrumental in turning this research into impact—locally and worldwide.

Bill’s research on cold temperature biological treatment process for the removal of phosphorous from sewage led to the City of Kelowna adopting this method in a sewage treatment plant.

The province of British Columbia recognized his research into the Eurasian Milfoil problem in the interior lakes of B.C.; while internationally, Bill was a specialist consultant to the World Bank and contributed to the water quality and pollution control of two major river bases in Mexico.

“I always found Bill to be the consummate professional, warm, easy to talk to and enjoyable to be around. My personal experience with Bill was that he was genuinely interested in the ‘whole person’ – no just your academic side but your personal side as well.” – Dr. Alan Russell, Professor Emeritus

Bill is predeceased by his beloved soulmate Jacqueline Claire, his parents and his sister. He leaves behind a brother, two adult children, two adult grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. His family are forever grateful for his love and support over his long life, and are appreciative and proud of the important contributions he made in his career.

Most importantly, his family honour, remember, and hope to emulate his personal qualities—he was always fair, honest and kind, with a ready and witty sense of humor.

“When Bill hired me back in 1989, he talked to me about everything else except technical things during the interview. At the end of the interview he said "You are in, welcome to the family". He was such a nice and kind gentleman.” – John WongEngineering Technician

There will be no funeral at his expressed request. In lieu of flowers please feel encouraged to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society or the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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