Peck the Grammarian
"You Call Me Ralph"
I have known Dr. Ralph Peck for 31 years. The last several years, he and I met for lunch,
attended the monthly Albuquerque Geotechnical Group meeting, and after the meeting
we sat in his office, played with his poodle Tammy, and shared stories for hours. We had
a great time remembering our old friends and sharing recollections of geo-projects.
Dr. Peck's advice to engineers to get out in the field, study the ground "close-up," and
learn the means and methods of builders, is well known. Possibly not so well known was
his emphasis on clear, concise thinking and writing. He insisted that writing and use of
the proper "words" was very important to engineering. He told me he learned this from
his father O.K. Peck and from Karl Terzaghi.
One day I told Dr. Peck about Dr. Robert I. White, the president of Kent State University,
whom I met while an undergraduate student. In the spring and summer of 1965, I was
the part-time janitor who cleaned his office and emptied his wastebaskets. President
White used what I called "big words" in his speech and his memos to staff. He insisted
that we must rise to his level of vocabulary and use the precise words required. I always
addressed him as "President White." After several months of morning encounters, he
told me that we were friends and that I didn't have to call him "President White"
anymore. After a pause, and wondering if I should call him "Bob," he told me that I could
call him "Dr. White!" Dr. Peck laughed at this concession to correctness, then said, "John
that's why I like you so much.... you call me Ralph.
In my opinion, Ralph Peck was one of the greatest Civil Engineers of all time. He was my
friend. I miss you Ralph.
John C. Lommler, Ph.D., P.E.
This letter is an excerpt from the Geo-Strata Feature on Professor Peck, Geo-Strata