Obituary: David B. Rees / Keen engineer who oversaw construction of major bridges

June 9, 1924 - March 30, 2014

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David B. Rees' children remember their father, an engineer who spent his career with the American Bridge Co., studying balsa wood mockups of bridge sections on their dining room table.

What he was doing with those models didn't make much sense to them then, but they were certainly significant -- Mr. Rees had a role in building some of the major bridges around the nation and world, most notably as project manager on New York's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the 1960s.

Mr. Rees, a former Ben Avon councilman, died Sunday at Masonic Village at Sewickley after battling cancer and other ailments. He was 89.

From the time he graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1947 to the late 1990s, he worked for American Bridge Co. in one way or another, as a field engineer, project manager or consultant.

At the time he was involved in day-to-day oversight of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island, it was the company's biggest project. The 6,691-foot span was until 1981 the longest suspension bridge in the world.

His son Jim of Pomfret, Conn., remembers a crew from NBC's "Today" show filming an interview with Mr. Rees on a tugboat as the bridge was nearing completion.

It was all in the course of work for Mr. Rees, who previously helped build the Delaware Memorial Bridge, Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia and Mackinac Bridge in Michigan, among others. The Bellevue native frequently took his family with him around the country, to live for months or years at a time as he worked on the projects.

After 1966, he was primarily based at American Bridge's headquarters at the U.S. Steel Building, Downtown, but would frequently travel overseas, including Portugal, Denmark, Venezuela and Scotland, for weeks at a time to consult on projects.

"He was the last of the slide rule engineers," Jim Rees said, noting his father enjoyed challenging his children with mathematical problems as they sat around the dinner table.

He was considered a problem solver himself around the Ben Avon home, whether building a new porch himself or doing other projects.

Others in the borough asked Mr. Rees in the 1970s to fill an open seat on borough council, and after doing so, he later won election to a term. A tall man who was notably skinny for most of his life, Mr. Rees was a longtime firefighter and also served as president of the volunteer fire company.

In retirement, he took to woodworking and continued his interest in fly fishing, on which he would make trips to Wyoming as well as regular visits to Pine Lake in Ohio and Spruce Creek in central Pennsylvania.

Besides his son Jim, he is survived by three sons, David Jr. of Wyomissing, Berks County, Bob of Ohio Township and Bruce of Emsworth; one daughter, Eleanor Lehman of State College, Centre County; eight grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Private arrangements were by McDonald-Linn Funeral Home, Avalon.


Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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