Famed Montana Hydraulics Professor ‘Ted’ Williams Dies at 91

Theodore “Ted” Williams, a legend of Montana civil engineering, professor emeritus of Montana State University and a stabilizing force in local environmental planning, has died. He was 91.

Photo of Theodore “Ted” Williams,

Williams, P.E., F.ASCE, attended Colorado State University on the GI Bill following World War II. He took his first job in engineering with the Fort Lyon Canal Company, where he helped oversee an irrigation system that served 90,000 acres of farmland along the Arkansas River.

Williams taught hydraulics, fluid mechanics, and irrigation engineering courses to generations of MSU students. He also served as head of the civil engineering department, was an associate dean with the College of Engineering, and took a turn as interim vice president of research. He was a past national president of the civil engineering honor society Chi Epsilon, and became an ASCE Life Member in 1992.

Upon Williams’ induction into the Montana Professional Engineers Hall of Fame, Doug Brekke, a former president of the Montana Society of Engineers, said, “There probably isn’t an engineering firm in the state that doesn’t have someone on staff who was taught by Ted Williams. … [H]e was also in the trenches with the students.”

“I still miss the students,” Williams said after retiring in 1990. In fact, he continued to teach entry-level hydraulics part-time for the next 12 years. “As a professor, I [am] able to watch my students go out and have wonderful careers in engineering.”

In the 1960s he teamed with a colleague to design a system for calculating and recording the water flows coming off of Bridger Bowl Ski Area, near Bozeman, MT. Charting the effect of the land on the flows led to an impact study of a corporation-proposed ski resort.

“People in the valley wanted to know that they would still be able to water their potato and wheat fields,” Williams said. “So we looked into it and the rest is history.”

At MSU, Williams spearheaded a federally funded study of the environmental effects and remediation prospects of open-pit coal mining in eastern Montana.

He was an elder in his church, a Rotary Club member, and a leader in the young men’s fraternity Sons of the American Revolution. He was also a Boy Scouts scoutmaster, and in 2010 was selected for membership in the Montana Masonic Hall of Fame.


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