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

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich Police ask for help locating missing high-risk youth

Robyn Coker-Steel has not been in contact with anyone from her home since Dec. 27

Warm ‘blob’ could be behind mass starvation of North Pacific seabirds: Study

Unprecedented death toll raises red flag for North American marine ecosystems

Some 500 people attend Sidney vigil for victims of Iran airplane crash

All 176 passengers, including 57 Canadians, died when Flight PS752 crashed

Six boat wrecks wash up on Cadboro Bay beaches over the weekend

Dead Boat Society working with Oak Bay, Saanich to clear derelict boats

VIDEO: Soldiers trade rifles for snow shovels to help dig out St. John’s

A state of emergency is set to extend into a fifth day

Power lines cut as thieves strike Vancouver Island veterinary hospital

‘Thankfully there weren’t any animals or staff in the clinic when this happened’

ICBC to bring in ranking system for collision, glass repair shops

Change comes after the much-maligned auto insurer has faced criticism for sky-high premiums

Surrey’s ‘Pink Palace’ being used for Stephen King horror shoot

New web series based on King’s The Stand novel

‘It was just so fast’: B.C. teen recalls 150-metre fall down Oregon mountain

Surrey’s Gurbaz Singh broke his leg on Mount Hood on Dec. 30

Vancouver Island Pride weekend returns to Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Building on the success of last year’s family-friendly pride festival on Vancouver… Continue reading

Scarlett Point lighthouse keeper wins a million bucks playing the lottery

“I usually just get a quick pick, so I didn’t expect to win a big prize”

B.C. woman crowned the fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history

Malindi Elmore ran an incredible 2:24:50 at the Houston Marathon

Alberta bulldog breeder ordered to refund B.C. buyer over puppy’s behaviour

Tribunal ruled a verbal agreement to send a new dog superseded the written contract

Most Read