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Bob Nichols, 1926-2015

May 10, 2015

Bob Nichols, a longtime executive at Freese and Nichols and a nationally recognized leader in the engineering profession, passed away Friday, May 8, in Arlington, Texas. He was 88.

During his 67-year career at Freese and Nichols, Bob primarily focused on environmental engineering, coordinating numerous large-scale, multi-discipline and multi-consultant projects. These included water and wastewater treatment plants, wastewater collection systems, water distribution systems, and drainage master plans. Cities across Texas benefited from Bob's broad experience in managing civil engineering projects, his deep understanding of municipal utilities, and his strong ties with state and federal regulatory agencies.

Bob's engineering achievements extended beyond technical expertise, notably in his leadership of the profession and his commitment to advancing ethics. He served in many leadership roles for the National Society of Professional Engineers: Fort Worth chapter president in 1959, Texas society president in 1965-66, and national president in 1978-79. During his national presidency, he oversaw significant changes to the society’s Code of Ethics; he later served as Chairman of the Society’s Board for Ethical Review and as President of the National Institute for Engineering Ethics. His dedication to professional service was so exemplary that each year Freese and Nichols honors an employee with a service award that bears his name.

“Bob was a tireless advocate for ethics in engineering,” says Bob Pence, Freese and Nichols’ current CEO and President. “Even recently, well past when most men would have retired, he was still traveling all over the state to teach ethics. Thanks to Bob’s work, we can be confident that the engineers who design our pipelines, bridges and airports are being held to the highest standards of integrity. We all owe a debt of gratitude to him – not just engineers, all of us.”

Freese and Nichols flourished under Bob's leadership. When the firm incorporated in 1977, he became Vice President, serving in that role for three years and as Executive Vice President for eight more. He was President from 1988 to 1991, and Vice Chairman from 1991 to 1992. From 1992 through this year, he remained active at the firm as President Emeritus, providing valuable quality-assurance insight for projects; supporting high-level client relationships; and teaching professional ethics classes for employees and clients.

Civic duty was also high among Bob's priorities. Perhaps closest to his heart were the Boy Scouts; he was an active Scouting volunteer for more than 30 years and served as President of the Longhorn Council in North Texas and the Ozark Trails Council in southwest Missouri. Bob also served on the Texas A&M Civil Engineering Advisory Board; the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce in Webb City, Mo.; and numerous other civic and educational organizations.

Bob was born June 24, 1926, to Marvin and Ethel Nichols. He was an alumnus of Fort Worth’s Paschal High School and Texas A&M University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering. Bob is survived by Frances, his wife of 67 years; his brother Jim and wife Billie; three children; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Read more about Bob and his contributions to southwest Missouri in his feature in the Joplin Globe.

Memorial Service
Central United Methodist Church
5 S. Pennsylvania St.
Webb City, Missouri
1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 16
A reception at the church will follow the service during which time friends and family are invited to videotape memories of Bob for his family, especially for his great-grandchildren. Written memories will also be treasured.

Private Graveside Service
Greenwood Memorial Park
Fort Worth, Texas
2:00 p.m. Thursday, May 21

Celebration of Life
Arborlawn United Methodist Church
5001 Briarhaven Road
Fort Worth, Texas
4:00 - 6:00 p.m. Thursday, May 21

In lieu of flowers, Bob requested that donations be sent to the Bobby Nichols Jr. Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 1, Webb City, MO 64870. We encourage you to sign the guestbook by leaving a comment below and to read more about Bob's legacy in his bio.

Bob Nichols Legacy Bio

Bob Nichols Media Release

Photo of Bob Nichols


Bob came to visit me several times over my sixteen years at Freese and Nichols, and I was always happy to help him with his computer needs. I will miss his visits.

I have had the privilege and honor to work with Bob for 43 years. He was more than a person to work for; he was also a friend to all that knew him. Bob's legacy will live on through those that work here and he will not be forgotten but he will be missed.

There are no words to express Bob's legacy as a family man, engineer and community servant. I had the pleasure of working with him for almost 8 years. Bob would periodically bring me small personal projects that required some assitance. I was honored that he trusted me to work on a historical book for the Boy Scouts for several months. He always made time to stop by my desk to say hello when he was in town. Bob made me feel special and relevant as a non-engineer in an engineering world. I have the upmost respect for the Nichols family and am honored to have known Bob. He will be greatly missed.

I always enjoyed Bob's visits to the Dallas office, and attending his Ethics Classes. I would always make it a point to stop and talk to him for a little bit while he was in Dallas. Very wise man, and he will be missed terribly.

Each time Bob and I worked together to conduct an Ethics Seminar, I stood in awe of his knowledge, perspective and personal commitment to ethics. As we spent time traveling to the different offices over the past 5 years, my goal was to ask him questions and then just listen. I felt privileged to learn so much from him! His sense of humor kept everything lively, while his sharp wit kept me on my toes. I am grateful and honored to have known him and worked with him.

Was a pleasure to hear Bob's stories each time I was around him. He will be missed.

I greatly appreciate Bob's contribution to the engineering profession and specifically Freese and Nichols throughout his career. His strong commitment to ethics have been an important part of our history, and I look forward to our employees continuing that legacy. One thing I appreciated about Bob later in life was his sense of humor, which is not something engineers are typically known for! He will be greatly missed.

What an amazing man that taught us so much about Freese and Nichols!. I have gotten the privilege of working with Bob for almost 10 years. Every year I was able to work with him on Marvin C. Nichols Papers and Presentations involved with the Annual Dinner. What a wise man that was so dedicated to Freese and Nichols and was so personable to all of us that work here. I am so blessed I had a chance to work with him and know him on a personal level. I will miss our visits with you and Francis at TJ and Bill's enjoying our walks and ice cream. You will be so missed.

May our Lord bless and comfort the Freese & Nichols Staffs and the Nichols family during this time of grief. Please accept my sincere condolences. Freese & Nichols always being the number one Consulting Engineers with professionals.

A life well lived, and lived to the fullest. He was passionate in all he undertook, was inspirational in His leadership, and was a person of ultimate integrity. I am blessed having known and worked with Bob over the past 25+ years as a fellow volunteer in his beloved NSPE. God has granted me the good fortune of having been placed in the presence of a few truly outstanding engineers and mentors.....Bob was one of those.

Skip Lewis (Greenville, SC)

After leaving FNI I would occasionally run into Mr. Nichols and I was always shocked when he would instantly recognize me (I was a nobody at FNI!) and ask about me and how I was doing! It always meant a lot to me that he would even know who I was much less make a point to speak with me! I have always been very proud to be associated with FNI and the Nichols family (even in a small way) and want to express my sincere condolences.

Having served ont the Boards of Southeast Fort Worth, Inc and FW Black Chamber of Commerce, locally, Bob's leadership and that of the company have been instumental in part to the successes in the redevelopment of underserved markets and businesses in the Fort Worth community. Historically and today, the sustained support of Freese and Nichols speaks volumes to the shared vision with Bob for a better and brighter City. Bob like the few committed leaders who have gone before, will be truly missed.

I want to express my condolences to Bob's family and to the firm. Bob was a gentleman and so very gracious in his approach to business and how he worked with clients. i worked with him for many years in my time with the City of Rockwall and i always appreciated his knowledge, his honesty and his willingness to find solutions. He will be missed.

I first met Bob when he was part of the interview team when I was going to Springfield, Missouri for the Boy Scouts. What I remember most about Bob is that he always asked the difficult questions to make sure we were going to do the right thing. His leadership helped the Ozark Trails Council and he was a role model for everyone. He will be missed by everyone.

Bob Nichols defined what it means to be a “Professional Engineer”. He understood the principles and obligations and lived the part. Having served on the NSPE Professional Liability Committee together for nearly 30 years, I viewed Bob as a mentor and friend. He was an extremely valuable member of the Committee. After long discussions about a contentious issue, Bob would weigh in with a well stated position and that would almost always prevail. He will be missed. No meeting that Bob attended was complete without a supply of Dr. Pepper. While he tried to get others to see the merits, I don’t think he managed to convert any of us. There will be a special Dr. Pepper toast to Bob at our next meeting.

Back in the early 2000s, I visited the Red River cabin for the very first time. I had been out of school working for FNI for about 2 years, so I did not know everyone. And being in the Dallas office at the time, I did not know many folks like Bob Nichols and others in the FNI leadership chain. On our return trip home from Red River, my wife and I stopped at a random gas station in New Mexico. Inside was a man that I had never met but that looked very familiar. I thought to myself that he worked at Freese and Nichols, but could not pin point his name. So I walked up to him and asked if he worked for Freese and Nichols. "Well yes sir, I certainly do. My name is Bob Nichols." And there was more to his response. But my jaw dropped to the floor and I will never forget that moment. From then on, it was always a pleasure engaging with Mr. Nichols. He would tell me stories of his involvement with WEF, ask me how I was doing, and he always had a distinct view on any ethical case we would review. Thank you for taking the time you spent with me over the years along with many others here at FNI and in our communities. You will be missed Mr. Nichols!

From when I was small until well after I graduated from college, Bob always believed in me. He was very supportive and always knew how to put a smile on your face.

I chaired the NSPE Honor Awards Task Force this year and Bob was on the committee, keeping up with the 40 to 60 year olds and figuring out how to use Dropbox! Still hard charging right up to the end.

I am sure that Bob Nichols’ passing will leave holes in the lives of many. I, too, knew Bob through activities with the National Society of Professional Engineers. During the years in which I knew him (many, but also too few), I grew to admire and respect him as a person and as a man of the highest integrity. I always looked forward to seeing him at meetings. I enjoyed our conversations enormously. He was such an icon within the society that I asked him to be one of the members for my own installation as society president in 2007. Bob was the consummate Professional Engineer, a gentleman of the highest degree of ethical behavior. It was a privilege and honor to know him and to associate with him.

I recall meeting Mr. Nichols at a social. After which, I felt he never really knew a stranger.

Rest and Peace

Bob Nichols was to me was Engineer’s, Engineer. He always knew how to ask the tough questions and you had better have had your quality assurance reviews done. He made me a better engineer, I’m sure he will be providing quality reviews where he’s resting now. Bob, you will not be forgotten

I served with Bob on the NSPE/PEPP Professional Liability Committee for over 25 years. Bob rarely missed a meeting. He came prepared and always gave meaningful input into the discussions. He could always be counted on to represent the profession first and foremost and the interests of the large firm right behind that. Bob was always very encouraging and was generous with his complements. He was a gentleman at all times. And sometimes he surprised you with his adventuresome spirit like the time he travelled to Antarctica with his granddaughter. Bob will be missed my many.

I spent many hours talking with Bob over my 8 year tenure at FNI. Most of the time was spent during QA reviews and futures committee meetings. QA reviews were generally dreaded by the project management staff but not with him. He wanted to know everything about your project and even better, he wanted to know 'you'. I missed one of his ethics seminars that I'd registered for because a meeting came up. He called me right after the seminar and asked me why I didn't show up for it. I told him that I had to be at a meeting and didn't have a chance to update my attendance status. He laughed and told me, "It's ok.. just be ethical for the time being. Also, sign up for next month's presentation and be there." My condolences to his family and friends.

I had the pleasure and privilege to know and work with Bob....and Freese-Nichols....first as assistant city manager of San Angelo, then city manager..... and later as consultant with Upper Colorado River Authority.

In every capacity, I found Bob not only a true professional, but a dedicated pro-active for his client and tireless in his quest for solutions which made sense both economically and politically.

We were friends and continued our relationships after my and his retirements, visiting often on the phone and in person on his trips to San Angelo. I am grateful for his lasting contributions to the City of San Angelo, UCRA and West Texas in water supply, treatment and distribution issues. I shall miss him. . . knowing that his kind comes along so infrequently.
Stephen Brown
San Angelo, Texas

Bob and I had a special bond through his ethics visits in the Southeast Region, as well as our visits at TPWA conferences. He always made a point to meet with me for breakfast or dinner when he was in town and we would have the greatest conversations. I also had the distinguished honor of receiving the Robert L. Nichols Professional Service Award in 2013, which meant the world to me. I will miss you dearly, Bob. May you rest in peace.

I started working for FNI in June 2014. I remember during my first week a gentlemen saw me downstairs in the printshop and said "Good Morning Young Lady". I introduced myself and when he told me he was Bob Nichols, I was shocked. He asked me if I was new to the company and I said "Yes, sir" and then he welcomed me. Never in my professional life have I met a Senior Leadership/Owner be so welcoming and knew right off the bat I was new. You may not be with us physically but you are in all of our hearts and minds with such great respect and wonderful memories of you. May you rest in peace and May God hold your family and FNI family in his arms during this difficult time for so many.

As a fellow past president of TSPE and NSPE, I appreciate the contributions of the giants in our professions who came before. Bob was truly a giant in our professions whose example of service to the community and profession lit the way for those of us who followed him. He will be missed!!

We first came together to the Special Meeting of the NSPE Board in 1966 and joined to preserve the membership for PE"s. Young bloods against the establishment but nonetheless prevailing. A dozen years later he was NSPE Pres. no less, and I soon behind, following his good example and clear headed analysis of the issues besetting NSPE. He led the way on a move to Alexandria. We built a new building. He lectured us on ethics, and fostered the organizational structures to promulgate his strong ideas in that domain. His quiet, self effacing but persuasive emphasis on competence was an exemplar for Professional Engineering practitioners. Good by, good friend. You will be missed. ....Marvin Specter

I first met Mr. Nichols when he taught an ethics class at our first office here in Houston. Although I had been a Freese and Nichols employee for nearly 3 years at that time, most of my time had been at Fort Polk. When he met me he said "Oh, you are one of Barbara's minions!" I was never sure if that was good or bad.

Bob Nichols was a longtime volunteer for the national Engineering Exploring committee. His commitment to the program and to his profession stands a testimonial to his dedication to youth. He was a strong believer in the character development features of Exploring. We found Bob was tireless in his efforts to expand our program by engaging local offices and local engineering firms and organizations to consider organizing a post in their community. His sense of service is a fine example that our national leadership in Exploring will greatly miss.

The Engineering Profession has lost a Giant I have lost a friend. Bob was my mentor in the National Society of Professional Engineers and we served together from 1978 on various Boards, task forces and Committee's. A fine gentleman and a dedicated engineer. He will be missed

Bob liked to tell the story when he was a young man just starting out with Freese and Nichols and my father was Mayor of Grapevine. We needed to lay a water line under Highway l2l and Bob called and told my father that the State Highway Department had denied the permit to close the highway to do the work. My father told Bob to let him handle it just have his equipment out here at l:00 o'clock ready to go. Bob asked what are you going to do. My father said, just before l:00 o'clock I am going to call the State Highway Department and tell them we are expecting a grass fire out here along Hwy l2l about l:00 and the fire trucks are going to have to close the highway. That is what happened and they got by with it but Bob was scared out of his wits.

When you go through life there will be people that touch your heart and soul. Bob Nichols was one of those people for me. He was many things to many and will be truly missed by all who were so fortunate to have crossed paths with him. A class act for sure, a Gentleman, absolutely.

Legends live on ....

My sincere condolences to the Nichols Family, both personal and professional. I will miss his kindness, his humor, his ability to make you feel respected and that what you had to say was important. He has touched many lives in more ways that any one of us will ever know. His was a life well lived. I will miss seeing him walk down the third floor hallway to his office. I am honored to have known him. Bob will live on through his family, his many good works and the hearts of all those who came in contact with him.

Bob was one of our first board members from Missouri. He was instrumental in establishing the Watershed Council that has brought State, Local and Tribal participants into our efforts to improve water quality in the Grand Lake O' the Cherokees Watershed. He will be missed. I know that I speak for the entire board in saying that we wish the family peace and good health.

I was so saddened to hear about Bob's passing. Most won't know this, but my grandfather and Bob were friends through their church many years ago at Westcliff Methodist. In fact, I believe that Frances played piano at my Aunt Jane’s wedding many, many years ago. My Grandad always spoke very highly of both Bob and Jim, which is one of the reasons I closely followed FNI in college and pursued employment here when I graduated. I first met Bob personally my sophomore year at A&M at a guest presentation he gave, and he made a quick impression on me as you can imagine.

That strong impression continued when I joined FNI in 1993. I considered Bob a mentor, and over my 22 years at FNI I was fortunate to also come to know him as a friend. Much like my Grandad, I thought very highly of Bob. He and I had many illuminating discussions through the years, especially on the subject of ethical conduct, and I always found Bob a valuable resource. I made it a point to join his ethics class in Dallas each year and found his perspective on ethical conduct to be consistent and true. Just 10 days before his passing I had the privilege of visiting with him by phone as we discussed a QA on one of my projects. As always, Bob asked the right questions and it was a blessing to spend one last time with him that day.

I first came into contact with Bob in the mid 60's, when it looked like our State Legislature was going to overturn the Engineering Procurement Act in favor of the low bid process. Bob lead the charge to protect the public interest and our profession, and won, to my surprise. I have admired and respected him ever since. He was accredit to our profession and to the F&N firm.
We always need more people like Bob. He will be missed.

I had the honor to work closely with Mr. Nichols on a project he oversaw in great detail. The Lake Brazos Dam Replacement was a great project and Bob was a key piece of that success. During the course of the project, he demonstrated that engineers protect the best interest of the public and clients by paying attention to details, anticipating challenges, doing quality work, and especially by clearly addressing client expectations. Bob asked tough questions (and many questions he asked!) when needed and provided supportive feedback when deserved. He did so in the outmost professional manner and with a good sense of humor. I really enjoyed working with Mr. Nichols on the Lake Brazos Dam project and the many others he provided valuable input during quality assurance reviews. His involvement in my work and career was a reminder of FNI’s rich history and great legacy that are taking the firm into the future. He will surely be missed.

Bob was a friend of my father for more than 35 years. They worked together in professional organizations and formed a close friendship that included their spouses. For many years they went on annual outings with other engineer friends (including Shelby/Ruth Willis, and Dave/Mardel Lillard) When travel became an issue for the group a few years ago, they remained friends via email and phone calls, often to share a joke. This winter when my Dad (Everett) passed away, Bob was one of the first to call to share his condolences with my mother. Bob was someone my Dad and I respected very much. He was a very generous, smart man with a great sense of humor. We will miss him very much.

I know all of you miss Bob terribly. If I know anything about Uncle Bob, it is that he loved and adored his family. It is reflected in all of you as his children, inlaws ( outlaws, as he joked), grandchildren, and great grandchildren. You are all so kind, brilliant, and all of you have so very much integrity, as did Uncle Bob. He was as much a Hardison as the actual Hardisons. He was our leader in family reunions. As one of his many nieces, he was fun, funny and very generous, as he and Aunt Frances took most of us on trips all around the country. I don't know of any other family that had so generous an Uncle. I will miss him at family get togethers as all of his relatives will.
I wish you all love and many fond memories of Bob. God Bless you all.