Wesley O Pipes Jr. – Memorial to a Mentor

On May 20 2013, I was saddened to learn that Wesley O. Pipes, Jr., emeritus professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University passed away.  The obituary I wrote for the list server of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors is pasted below.  But this event has led me to reflect on whom I felt have been mentors during my career. Some are obvious, and I will write of them later (my MS and PhD advisors, for example), but some have been less obvious — they were individuals with whom I interacted with at critical stages in my career and whom had an impact on my professional evolution.

Having finished my doctorate in 1978 on the mechanisms of action of disinfection, spending a lot of time studying basic biochemical and physiological properties of indicator organisms in water and waterborne pathogens, Wes’ papers on the statistics of coliform in water, for example this one in the Journal of the American Water Works Association, came as quite an eyeopener.  One could in fact look at bacteria in a quantitative statistical manner.

I joined the faculty at RPI in 1978, and my work continued to focus on indicators.  The first professional conference I attended was organized by Wes around the topics of the health significance of indicators in water – held in the Spring of 1978.  That era saw the broad discussion of the significance of coliforms, the appropriate standards for drinking water and recreational waters, and the advent of direct measurements of pathogens in the environment.

Wes’ combination of statistical and numerical methods with microbiological methods influenced my work, and probably prepared me to help create the field of quantitative microbial risk assessment.  I continued to interact with Wes at many professional and agency conferences over the subsequent 22 years.

When, in 1990, the opportunity presented itself to move to Drexel, one of the persuasive factors was the potential to interact closely with Wes as a colleague.  We had wonderful interactions continuing until shortly before his death.  Wes gave me many ideas as a teacher, researcher, mentor, and consummate professional.



Pipes taken May 7 2013

Wesley O Pipes, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, passed away on May 20 2013. Wes had a long and productive history in research and teaching in civil and environmental engineering. He was born January 28 1932 in Dallas Texas.

He received BS and MS degrees in Biology from North Texas State University, and received his PhD degree in Sanitary Engineering at Northwestern University under Harold Gotaas, who was then Dean of the Technological Institute at Northwestern. After receiving his PhD in 1959, Wes joined Northwestern University where he remained until 1974, holding dual appointments in both the Civil Engineering and Biology departments.

In 1975, he joined Drexel University as the inaugural LD Betz Professor of Ecology. In 1983, he transferred into the College of Engineering, and served as Head of the Department of Civil Engineering from 1983 until 1987. After stepping down from the headship, Wes remained an active faculty member of the department, and retired in 1998. He was also active in the Environmental Studies Institute (where he served for a time as Associate Director), and participated in numerous Drexel committees. Wes was President of the Drexel chapter of Sigma Xi from 1981-1982. Wes Pipes was active in a number of national and international societies, including the American Water Works Association, the Water Environment Federation, the American Society of Microbiology, the Association of Environmental Engineering Professors (serving as President in 1975), the International Water Association, the International Environmetrics Society (of which he was a founding member) and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Wes’ scholarly work was broadly in the area of microbiological understanding of water and wastewater treatment systems. His early work focused on biological disturbances in common wastewater treatment systems and on the use of algae for treatment of wastes. His work at Drexel focused on understanding the distribution of bacteria in drinking water systems, and played an important part in revisions of the US drinking water regulations. Wes authored over 125 papers and major reports on these topics. He received awards for his work from the Association of Environmental Engineering Professors, the Pennsylvania Water Pollution Control Association.

He was involved with various community organizations, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, supporting watershed protection and enjoying the Philadelphia Art Museum.  As an active church member, he taught Sunday School and served as a deacon and elder in the churches he attended throughout his life.


He loved, and was greatly loved, by his wife, children and grandchildren. He deeply enjoyed family, friendships, camping, traveling, reading and gardening.  He is survived by his loving wife of 31 years, Jane, seven of his children, 13 grandchildren and his sister.  Memorial services were held at the First Baptist Church of Haddonfield on Friday, May 24th