W. Robert Clay, John W. Johnson, and Edward Thackston received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering during the Engineering Celebration Dinner at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, Thursday, Oct. 11.
The award recognizes distinguished achievement, significant service, excellent character and a reputation that reflects well on the school. The honoree is chosen from nominations submitted by the Engineering Alumni Council and the faculty of the School of Engineering.
Clay is a native Nashvillian, born in Old Hickory, TN. He graduated from Vanderbilt in 1954 with a degree in chemical engineering.
Clay had a 36-year career with Dupont until his retirement in 1990. His career took him across the U.S. and around the world. He was involved in the initial development and marketing of Nomex paper and holds one of the early patents on this product. He also served as chairman of DuPont’s international division in Geneva, Switzerland, with responsibility for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and as vice president with responsibility for Latin America and Asia Pacific.
Johnson, a native and current resident of Houston, Texas, graduated from Vanderbilt in 1968 with a degree in civil engineering. He is chairman of Permian Mud Service, an oil field service business with operations worldwide. Johnson is also chairman of the executive board of its subsidiary, Champion Technologies, and founding chairman of Amegy Bank of Texas.
In 1999, he was appointed by Governor George W. Bush as commissioner of the Texas Transportation Commission, overseeing the Texas Department of Transportation. He served as the chair of the commission for four years.
Johnson has served Vanderbilt University for more than 30 years – as a member of the Board of Trust, chairman of the athletics committee, leader in two Vanderbilt capital campaigns, and president of the Houston Vanderbilt Club.
Thackston, a Nashvillian born in Lebanon, Tennessee, received a degree in civil engineering in 1961 along with the Founder’s Medal which signifies first honors in the school of engineering. After receiving his master’s degree from the University of Illinois, Thackston returned to Vanderbilt to earn his Ph.D. in 1966 in environmental and water resources engineering. He was a member of the Vanderbilt Engineering faculty from 1965 to 2000.
From 1972 to 1973, Thackston served as staff assistant for environmental policy to then-Tennessee Governor Winfield Dunn. In 1974, he was named Conservationist of the Year by the Tennessee Conservation League for his work in promoting good environmental policy within the state government.
For the last 19 years of his 35-year career at Vanderbilt, Thackston was chairman of the department of civil and environmental engineering. Under his leadership, the volume of sponsored research secured by the faculty grew from $90,000 to $1.5 million per year. He has authored or co-authored over 120 technical publications. Although he retired in December 2000, he remained active in several research projects, and still continues in private consulting.
As Distinguished Alumni, Clay, Johnson, and Thackston become members of the School of Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni.