There are few who manage to grab an equal best in life from their work as well as their private lives and one of them was David Lawrence. David managed to fulfill a career in engineering that contributed to the civil development of major mining projects in his home country South Africa as well as several defining infrastructure projects in South Africa including the Drakensburg Pumped Storage Scheme where his connection to the international tunnelling fraternity began.
David died peacefully on 7 July and on his adopted home on the Isle of Mann in the UK after moving there with his family in the 1990s.
Through his career, David was engaged on so many important infrastructure engineering assignments. In South Africa, and as a Director of the underground construction engineering company Basil Read, he worked on many mine development projects as well as underground civil infrastructure projects.
In the UK, David was engaged in the early stages on the geological investigation shaft for the planned nuclear waste repository in Cumbria before the UK Government of the day cancelled the project.
Following that, he joined the Kellog Brown & Root team that managed the Dublin Port highway tunnel in Ireland where he managed a tunnelling project that was technically demanding and politically challenging. Through it all, the project was completed and Dublin is a changed city today due to the Port’s heavy freight traffic bypass of the city centre to the national highway connections.
With close out of the Dublin Port tunnel project, David retired to the Isle of Mann and continued association with the tunnelling industry as an independent consultant and worked with the LBA (London Bridge Association) construction consulting firm in the UK as a contracts advisor.
Many of David’s LBA, Brown & Root and other UK colleagues and friends joined the memorial service on the Isle of Mann on 16 July. A service is also planned in Johannesburg on 12 August for South African friends and colleagues.
In South Africa, David was most connected internationally during his association with the construction phase of the Drakensburg Pumped Storage Scheme where he worked with many international expatriate engineers from many parts of the word, including Terry Mellors and Martin Knights and John Sharp of the UK.
It was at a tunnelling conference of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association in 1989 that the Editor of TunnelTalk met David for the first time. The Editor was in a group of delegates and complaining of the quality of presentations at the congress when David Lawrence, from a different group, said “If you think it is so easy, come on down to South Africa and give a presentation at our tunnelling conference in November.”
David was Chair of SANCOT, the South African National Committee on Tunnelling, at the time and, although the invitation was considered a bluff at the time, it came to pass and presented an opportunity for me as a freelance tunnelling journalist at the time, to be the first woman to present a paper at SANCOT.
The conference day was followed by a field trip into the Highlands of Lesotho for a briefing and field tour of the major tunnelling and civil works associated with the bi-national water treaty that allows South Africa to capture the extra required potable water resources for the Johannesburg region in the Highlands and convey them by gravity through about 85km of TBM bored tunnel that was completed and placed in service in the early 2000s. This first visit started a long association with the project and the publication of five progress reports.
David had a truly international and interesting engineering career and counts among his most interesting projects, the legendry Med-Dead Sea tunnel connection that proposed excavating extensive tunnel infrastructure to convey water by gravity from the higher elevation of the Mediterranean Sea to the lower lever of the Dead Sea across Israel to replenish the depleting water resource of the Dead Sea and generate hydro power as part of the project. Ironically, it was regional civil unrest and threatened factional violence that killed off the project in the 1980s when David was in the Middle East and working on the actual start of the tunnel construction project. A revival of the project could well be a legacy towards reconciliation and reasonable negotiation of peace in such a fractious and unresolved part of the geopolitical world.
David was a certainly an engineer and professional in the international tunnelling business who was determined to present opportunities to others to be part of the real and exciting possibilities of the underground space tunnelling industry. He was an instrumental part of the careers and career development of so many in the business.
His adventurous and committed, yet fun loving approach to a professional career was a significant element of his success and the esteem that so many hold for him. He will be missed.