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Jim Nichols, 1923-2016

February 12, 2016

Jim Nichols

Jim Nichols, the longtime leader of Freese and Nichols and one of Texas’ most esteemed civil engineers, passed away Thursday, February 11. He was 92.

Throughout his 66-year career at Freese and Nichols, Jim was instrumental in providing dependable water supplies to communities across the state. For the drought-ravaged cities of West Texas, Jim helped create multicity water districts; raised project funding; and designed dams, pipelines and pump stations. For North Texas, his home for most of his life, Jim oversaw the design of Richland-Chambers Reservoir, the largest lake in the system that supplies water to Tarrant County. His technical expertise extended to aviation as well; he played a key role in the creation of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and led Freese and Nichols’ development of the original infrastructure there in the 1970s.

“The number of people whose lives Jim touched is truly remarkable,” says Bob Pence, Freese and Nichols’ current CEO and President. “Wherever I’d go — it could be a utility in Abilene, a state agency in Austin, or a Chamber function here in Fort Worth — people would ask me ‘How’s Jim doing?’ The impact of his work and his service will be felt for generations to come.”

Freese and Nichols would not be where we are today without Jim’s decades of leadership. In 1977, already having served 21 years as Partner, Jim became our first President when our firm incorporated. He served in that role for 11 years, followed by 14 as Board Chairman and 14 as Chairman Emeritus. Well into his 90s, Jim remained a consistent presence in our offices, as he advised project teams, consulted with clients and taught professional ethics classes.

Jim’s achievements in his work are matched only by his passion for service to his profession and his community. He served as Chairman of the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and as President of the Texas Water Conservation Association. He held leadership roles for the Texas A&M Research Foundation and the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, and he could often be found volunteering with the Panther Boys’ Club, YMCA or Girl Scouts. His dedication was so exemplary that each year Freese and Nichols honors an employee with a community service award that bears his name.

Jim was born June 29, 1923, 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. Jim is survived by Billie, his wife of 71 years; three children, Judy, Richard and John; six grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and seven great-great-grandchildren. His brother, Bob, died in May 2015.

Thompson's Harveson & Cole Funeral Home
702 Eighth Avenue
Fort Worth, Texas
Tuesday, February 16
5 to 7 p.m.

Memorial Service
Arborlawn United Methodist Church
5001 Briarhaven Road
Fort Worth, Texas
Wednesday, February 17
3 p.m. with a reception to follow

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to Happy Hill Farm Foundation, 3846 N. Highway 144, Granbury, Texas 76048; The Union Gospel Mission, 1321 E. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth, Texas 76102; or a charity of choice.

We encourage you to sign the guestbook by leaving a comment below and to read more about Jim's legacy in his biography.

Jim Nichols Biography

Jim Nichols Media Release

Portrait of Jim Nichols


Please accept my sincere sympathy for Mr. Jim Nichols. I have heard his name but never met him. I am sure he must be an outstanding engineer just because he was " aggies". he will be missed by the engineering communities.

Our condolences on the loss of Mr. Nichols.

My condolences to the family, friends and many acquaintances of Jim Nichols. Mr. Nichols was truly a man with a plan and a heart for service. God Bless You Mr. Nichols.

It was my honor and joy to work with Jim. I am deeply grateful for the time we travelled and taught classes together. He inspired me with his inner strength and kind humility, and delighted me with his wonderful sense of humor. I will miss Jim very much.

Thank you for all of your contributions to the engineering profession Mr. Nichols. You will be sorely missed.

Mr, Nichols is a man of great honor and distinction in our industry. I will brag for years to come that I knew him and had the chance to shake his hand. I am glad to work at a company that he helped build, and proud to share the distinction of "Aggie" with a great man and leader such as Jim.

So sorry to hear of the passing of Jim. He was not only a well respected engineer, but a very good and decent man. He represented the character that role models are made of, and will be missed. I will miss seeing him at TWCA meetings, as I am sure others will also. My sympathy goes out to his family for their loss. Glenn Jarvis

A most distinguished man and very accomplished engineer. Jim's death is the passing of an era that we need to celebrate. He certainly knew how to grow civil engineering projects from concept to implementation to operation. I was fortunate to have met Jim and been in a few meetings with him . . . enough to feel his deep insight, knowledge, and acumen regarding Texas water projects. He will be missed. His life and example set the standard for all of us and I pray we can live up to that standard.

Mr. Nichols', as head of one of the old line engineering firms, presence was felt throughout the State of Texas, not just in Fort Worth. He was a giant in the our profession. He will truly be missed.

What an honor to have known him.

I'm honored and fortunate to have worked with Mr. Nichols since I began at Freese and Nichols. His depths of commitment, caring, and ethics are key factors in why we have been a successful company well over 120 years. He always gave of himself to make others successful.

With grief we regret the loss of an outstanding individual in our field. At the same time we celebrate that a great man made so many contributions for so many. It has been said that "no greater love can be shown than to lay down one's life for a friend". We can say something similar about Mr. Nichols. He continuously thought of others as he served them to make the world safe and better. May peace come to those that he loved and cared for most during these trying times. May God Bless the family that is grieving.

So sorry to read of Jim Nichols' passing. Many fine young engineers are better for having known and worked with him. He will be missed, but inside and outside Freese and Nichols.

Jim will be missed but never forgotten! Jim was such an inspiration to all that knew him or ever worked with him. It would be hard to find a kinder or more ethical person anywhere. Jim was a good husband, father and grandfather and he left each of his loved ones lots of good memories as he did for everyone he came in contact with. He will be missed.

Several years ago, my wife and I stayed at the old Upper Valley cabin in Red River. The phone line was on the fritz, so we were asked to contact Jim when we got to the cabin (he and Billie were in town) to figure out what was going on. As a young engineer, I was somewhat intimidated to have to call Jim Nichols and ask him to do anything. After an hour of troubleshooting, we still didn't fix the phone line. We asked the Nichols' to join us for supper in town the next day, which they did. I will always remember that evening. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner, and Jim was more than willing to indulge my questions about his favorite projects (bringing water to West Texas) and his career. Jim talked not only of the past, but he was very tuned in to what was currently going on in the water industry. We talked of groundwater reduction in the Houston area, drought in West Texas, and our projects. He then guided us on an hour long tour of Red River and gave us a history of how the company came to own a cabin there. We are thankful that he and Billie spent time with us on their vacation and shared so much. We will miss him greatly.

I was so sorry to hear about the passing of Jim Nichols - may he rest in peace and tranquility. I send condolences to his family and hope they remember all the good times and may they smile with the good memories.

I send heartfelt condolences to the Nichols family and friends for their loss. May God bring you peace during this difficult time.