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Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury - In Memoriam

In Memoriam

 

BDI Mourns the Passing of Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury

 

The sudden loss of Professor Choudhury, fondly known to the legions of his former students, friends, and colleagues as “JRC,” has greatly saddened members of the Bangladesh Development Initiative (BDI), a U.S. based research organization dedicated to the development of Bangladesh, of which he was an honorary life member. We express our deep condolences to his family and to the nation.

Bangladesh has lost one of its most distinguished citizens, one who was widely respected as a person of intellect and integrity and had a global reputation as a visionary engineer and educator.  History will remember his extraordinary interests and contributions to the society and the economic development of his beloved Bangladesh. Some of the most visible development projects in Bangladesh have benefitted from his expertise as a pioneering structural engineer. He was also a lifelong computer enthusiast who brought first formal programming education to Bangladesh.

Throughout his long and distinguished career as an academic, engineer, researcher, scientist and public intellectual, Professor Choudhury worked tirelessly to contribute to the well-being of the citizens of Bangladesh. Through journal publications, consulting work, and presentations, he contributed to a corpus of knowledge that has improved our understanding of scientific theory to solve problems of poverty and economic development.

Professor Choudhury began his distinguished academic career at BUET, where he became a Professor of Civil Engineering in 1976. He served as the Head of the Department, Dean of the Faculty (1983–85) and Director, Computer Centre (1982–92).  He served as the founding Vice Chancellor of BRAC University (2001–10). At the time of his death, he was serving as the VC of University of Asia Pacific, a position he held since 2012. 

As a scholar, Professor Choudhury published numerous research papers on tall buildings, low-cost housing, earthquake resistant designs, cyclones and storm surges, retrofitting of structures and IT applications and policy. His 1967 paper, “Stresses and deflections in coupled shear walls,” in the proceedings of the American Concrete Institute presented a simplified method for the analysis of shear walls in high-rise buildings now known as “Coull and Choudhury method.” The concept has influenced the design of a large number of high-rise buildings across the world.

Given his expertise in civil and structural engineering, Professor Choudhury made a substantial impact outside academia.  He served as the Team Leader for the Multipurpose Cyclone Shelter Program, which prepared the Master Plan for Cyclone Shelters in Bangladesh. He advised the Government of Bangladesh, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and OECF, Japan, as part of a panel of experts for the Bangabandhu Bridge. He was head of the International Panel of Experts for Padma Bridge at the time of his death.

Outside academia, his active participation in numerous professional organizations reflected his wide-ranging interests and contributions to practical issues of engineering and development. He was elected a Fellow of Institution of Civil Engineers (UK) and a Chartered Engineer (UK). He was elected Fellow of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences (1999) and was the founding President of Bangladesh Earthquake Society. He served as the Chair of the Board of Accreditation for Engineering and Technical Education (BAETE), Bangladesh. In April 1996, he joined the Caretaker Government as an Adviser in charge of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and the Ministry of Water Resources.

He was among the founders of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), the largest civil society movement in Bangladesh for protection of environment, and was its first President during 2001-2005, reflecting his strong commitment to protecting environment even as Bangladesh moves to becoming a middle-income economy.

Professor Choudhury received numerous awards, including the SEED Award (Science, Education and Economic Development) from Rotary Club Foundation; IEB Gold Medal (Institute of Engineers, Bangladesh), among others. In 2017, the Government of Bangladesh awarded Professor Choudhury with one of the nation’s highest civilian awards, the Ekushey Padak, for his distinguished contributions to the arena of science and technology. The title of National Professor of Bangladesh was bestowed on him in 2018. 

In 2017, Bangladesh Development Initiative (BDI) recognized his extensive contributions to the society with the BDI Lifetime Achievement Award.  This was only the third such award given by BDI.  Even though he was unable to attend the BDI International Conference at Yale University to accept the award, he addressed the participants through a recorded video lecture. Later, he became an honorary life member of the organization. Sir Fazle Abed sent the following message for the occasion (March 2019), “'I am delighted to learn that Prof. Jamilur Reza Choudhury is being honored with the BDI Lifetime Achievement Award. He is Bangladesh's most celebrated engineer and has served his country with great distinction in academia and as a cabinet member for the country's caretaker government. We take great pride in his achievements.”

Professor Choudhury is survived by his wife Selina Choudhury (a biophysicist) and two children. Mrs. Choudhury worked closely with him supporting his wide interests and professional endeavors. Their daughter Charishma Choudhury is an Associate Professor at the Institute for Transport Studies and School of Civil Engineering at the University of Leeds where she leads the Choice Modelling Research Group. She received her PhD from MIT in Civil Engineering and is a BUET graduate. Their son Kaashif Reza Choudhury, an electrical engineer serves as Director, Research and Development at Track Innovative Technologies Ltd. in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Kaashif received his BS (Wilkes University) and MS (Virginia Tech) in Electrical Engineering.

Very few citizens of Bangladesh have made an impact on higher education, civil society, environment, and development of Bangladesh as did Professor Choudhury. Even fewer had the kind of gentle nature and decency for which he was known and beloved. As an educator and mentor, he enjoyed the love and respect of legions of former students, many of whom are in important leadership positions in Bangladesh and across the globe. They and the entire nation will miss him dearly.

Bangladesh Development Initiative (BDI), USA

April 30, 2020