With his wife Valerie next to him

A life well lived, and a degree well deserved

Professors and academic officers at UVic work in overdrive to award PhD to a mechanical engineer faced with terminal cancer

As an engineer and passionate environmentalist, Trevor Williams was one of those guys who spent every spare moment trying to spread the bright ideas of sustainability and conservation.

He and his wife Valerie had helped launch the Oak Bay Green Committee and a soft plastics recycling depot in their adopted municipality. They spoke to students around the region on ideas to make the planet better for all. He was well on his way to receiving his PhD in mechanical engineering and starting a new job at an aerospace firm in Germany, when regular life just stopped.

Last November, doctors diagnosed the 47-year-old native of Wales with terminal cancer. On Jan. 11, he died in Royal Jubilee Hospital.

But within the week before his death, his colleagues and academic administrators at the University of Victoria worked at institutional light speed to make sure Williams received his doctorate.

After his diagnosis, one of Williams’ final wishes was to complete his PhD, which focused on modelling how smart electrical grids could manage irregular renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

His advisor, assistant professor Curran Crawford, and mechanical engineering department chair professor Zuomin Dong visited Williams in hospital on Friday Jan. 4, and set into motion one of the fastest turnarounds – if not the fastest – of a dissertation to convocation in UVic history.

Williams had completed the bulk of his degree work, but his dissertation needed a formal defence. After a frenetic weekend assembling his papers, on Monday morning Crawford and Dong pressed Williams’ case with the deans of engineering and graduate studies. That night two professors formally presented Williams’ body of research to the deans.

“We examined the quality and quantity of his work,” Dong said. “We recognized that he made a real contribution to the field … there was more than enough original contribution to justify a PhD.”

That night, the dean of graduate studies wrote a memo to the UVic vice-president academic (Provost) and the senate committee on academics articulating the high quality of Williams’ work and requested the degree be granted.

Early Tuesday morning the senate committee and Provost held an emergency meeting, and Dong was astonished to find the PhD signed and framed in his office by 10:30 a.m. “In 24 hours the university came out with the degree. I was very impressed,” Dong said.

Two days later on Jan. 10, 60 friends, colleagues and family crowded the seventh floor of the Jubilee Hospital for a special convocation ceremony, where David Capson, dean of the faculty of graduate studies, awarded Williams his doctorate of mechanical engineering.

“It was a very beautiful ceremony. Many friends and family, lots of the university community and colleagues and PhD advisors. It was quite lovely,” Valerie Williams said. “The university did an extraordinary thing. It doesn’t happen all that often. It speaks to how well liked Trevor was and how extraordinary his work was.”

Williams passed away the next day, surrounded by his friends and family, including his two brothers and mother who arrived from Wales two days earlier.

“What surprised me more than anything is the overwhelming support he received from the university to make his dream fulfilled at the end of his life,” Valerie said. “Everybody helped. It wasn’t just his PhD advisors, it was the administration and fellow students who said Trevor deserved his PhD. He was well loved.

“It’s quite a loss,” Dong added. “The only thing we could do to help him was to let him know we appreciated his contribution.”

Valerie said her husband left an indelible mark on the world, and will be remembered as a man who followed his conscience. He was featured in a 2008 CBC News story for resigning from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates in Vancouver when it appeared the company’s aerospace division – and Williams’s contribution to the Radarsat-2 satellite – might be sold to a U.S. military contractor (the federal government eventually quashed that deal).

While living in Oak Bay, Williams and his wife lobbied for tree protection bylaws, the anti-idling bylaw in the Capital Region, founded the local green committee and started the environmental advocate website greenmuze.com. Prior to living in Victoria, he had worked as a satellite engineer for 23 years for companies in the U.K., France and Spain.

“I kept reminding him that in the end, he lived an extraordinary life and contributed so much to the planet and community,” Valerie said. “He lived a life most people only dream of, just shorter than expected.”

editor@saanichnews.com

 

 

Just Posted

Pearkes book sale will have 15,000 titles

Some seek volume of books while others hunt early editions in annual Saanich sale

Gingerbread Showcase returns for another year of delicious fun in Victoria

Funds raised from the event support Habitat for Humanity Victoria’s build in Central Saanich

Kelly Ellard’s boyfriend has statutory release revoked

Darwin Duane Dorozan had several parole infractions that found him ‘unmanageable’

Colwood mayor pitches ferry as commuter alternative

Mayor Rob Martin says different modes of transportation need to be considered

Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

UVic’s CanAssist refined seven prototypes aided by $1.5M government contribution

Greater Victoria holiday craft fair roundup for Nov. 16 to 18

Check off all of the items on your shopping list at these great events

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 14

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Canada’s health system commendable overall but barriers to care remain: UN

The United Nations says Canada’s health care system is “commendable” overall but vulnerable groups still face barriers to quality care.

Road rescue near Sayward points to volunteer need

Fire department recruits can be tough for small, remote communities

Doctor’s note shouldn’t be required to prove you’re sick: poll

70% of Canadians oppose allowing employers to make you get a sick note

Port Alberni convenience store robbed

Police still searching for suspect

German-born B.C. man warns against a ‘yes’ vote on proportional representation

Agassiz realtor Freddy Marks says PR in his home country shows party elites can never be voted out

Fashion Fridays: 5 coats you need this winter!

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Most Read