Memories of Narl Davidson

After learning of the passing of Professor Emeritus Narl Davidson in December, colleagues who knew him shared reflections on what it was like to work with him and the impact they made on him, whether it was as a professor, boss, or casual acquaintance.

Here is what they had to say about their colleague and friend.

"Narl was a profoundly great and deep person. He had a wide range of interests and was one of the few people I have known that truly tried to look at issues from a wide variety of perspectives. He never forgot his "values" and brought a sense of humanity to each and every decision. One anecdote stands out in my mind. In the 1980s, while Narl was Associate Chair for Administration in ME and I had joked at a reception of some kind that "anybody could teach ME 2016." Guess what... Narl assigned me to teach ME 2016. I countered that I would do it subject to allowing me to allow the students to use personal computers (before this, students had to use one of the GT mainframes) and that I could use Numerical Recipes as the text book. Narl approved my plan in spite of some faculty opposition. But then he did me one better. He told me that he would audit the class! Thus began a challenging but delightful experience......I tried to stay one step ahead and after each class as we walked back to the JS Coon Building, Narl would critique my lectures...and while a few of them were probably good, many were marginal at best. However, Narl was phenomenal in how he could deliver a substantive critique while allowing me to maintain my own sense of dignity. Looking back Narl made this a win win experience... for the students, for him and for me and this typifies Narl's selflessness and humanity!"

William J. Wepfer
Professor Emeritus
George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering


When I joined the Woodruff School in 1985 as a clueless young assistant professor, I had the pleasure of running into a few individuals who deeply cared about helping me feel welcome and productive. Narl was one of them. I remember him as a true gentleman, fair in his decision making, and caring about the new crew of young assistant professors who had just joined the School. He and I also shared the hobby of flying small airplanes. I enjoyed chatting with him about our experiences. Narl was a friend and a mentor to many and I will keep warm memories of him.

Yves H. Berthelot, Ph. D.                                                                  
Vice-Provost for International Initiatives
and Steven A. Denning Chair in Global Engagement


Interestingly enough, my first course in nuclear engineering as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University was taught by Narl. This was in the Fall of 1971. He was a master teacher and I recall that he once explained time dilation and length contraction at relativistic speeds by using an example of putting a long pole into a garage that was shorter than the pole and being able to shut the door. The details I don’t remember, but it was innovative. Later at Georgia Tech I had the privilege of working with him on the research reactor and Co-60 source facility decommissionings.

Earlier in my time at Texas A&M, must have been my freshmen year, Narl was doing advising for course preregistration. The midterm grade report showed that I had a C in Electricity and Magnetism. When he registered me for the next semester, he said that I might want to reconsider my major based on my physics course grade. Years later I reminded him of that when we worked on the reactor decommissioning, largely to tease him. By the way, I wound up with an A in Electricity and Magnetism.

Nolan Hertel
Professor, Nuclear and Radiological Engineering
George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering


I was very sad to hear that Narl had passed away. He provided me with some great insight when I arrived as an associate professor in 1994. His mind and door were always open to his colleagues and our students. Perhaps one of my best memories of Narl was during a particularly oppressive hot and humid summer day in Atlanta shortly after I arrived. I remember him telling me that sometime in October, a few storms will blow through and then the weather would turn beautiful and we would enjoy some magnificent crispy fall and winter weather. It is funny how that particular encounter has stayed with me, and when I head out on a particularly crisp morning, I think of Narl. He was simply a great colleague and person.

Tom Kurfess
Professor and HUSCO/Ramirez Distinguished Chair in
Fluid Power and Motion Control
George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering


I knew Narl from the time he first arrived at Georgia Tech in the 1970's. I got to know him very well when I served as Associate Dean for Academics in the College of Engineering and he was the Associate Dean for Administration. What I remember best about Narl was how he addressed issues - and there were plenty of them given his position - in such a thoughtful, quiet yet deliberate way. When he reached a decision, I never doubted it was the correct one because I knew him to be thorough but fair.

What I learned from Narl was the value of his way of decision making which, frankly, I had never given much thought to. It helped me a lot especially when I became Vice Provost and had to deal with a variety of issues much as he did.

Thanks Narl - for helping me and for all you did for all at Georgia Tech.

Ray Vito
Professor Emeritus

George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering



How often I heard the phrase “Just ask Narl!” and no matter what, he was always there. He always took the time to listen and offer advice whether I was trying to bill a sponsored project or figure out faculty workload. He was a mentor from day one in every sense of the word.

I have two favorite memories: one is when Narl showed me how to use a slide rule. I think he had his dad’s engineering tool kit and when I saw the slide rule, I commented that I never understood how those things worked. Narl, of course, was able to explain it within a matter of minutes and I, of course, was grateful I never had to use one.

My other favorite memory involved an exchange about flying lessons. We were talking about how my husband’s lessons were going and Narl asked me what kind of plane he was flying. Not wanting to appear stupid, I answered very confidently “I think it’s a C-130.” He, being the gentleman that he was, just smiled and said “Let me know how that goes.” Imagine my surprise when my husband explained the difference between a Cessna 172 and a C-130!

Narl was truly one in a million and I am grateful that our paths crossed. I cannot thank him enough for his contributions to Georgia Tech and to my own professional development. Because of his integrity and honesty, the many lives he touched here will be the legacy that ensures he is never forgotten.

Sandi Bramblett
Assistant Vice President
Institutional Research & Enterprise Data Management


Almost 20 years ago, I remember walking into the College of Engineering Dean’s office for a series of interviews for a part-time project coordinator position. The position would support two associate deans, one of whom was Dr. Narl Davidson. It was a bit daunting stepping off the elevator on the third floor of Tech Tower, seeing the wood paneling, and being ushered to a variety of interviews and a written test. However, Narl immediately made me feel at ease, with his easygoing smile, and his genuine interest whenever someone spoke. It was clear that he loved what he did and had a great passion for Georgia Tech. And he was simply one of the nicest people I had ever met. He sold me on wanting to be part of the Georgia Tech family!

I was lucky enough to get the project coordinator position and to be able to work for Narl. Throughout my years in the Dean’s Office (and after!), Narl mentored me, provided opportunities for growth and development, and was there if I needed a listening ear. He was unassuming, but clearly intelligent and very thoughtful. Without the trust and support that Narl showed me in those early days, there is no way my career would have grown the way it did.

What was particularly special about Narl is that in as much as he loved Georgia Tech, life wasn’t all about work for him. Narl also engaged on a personal level. I still recall how his eyes lit up when I brought my children up to the office – he would let them play with the various ‘toys’ he had in his office, was eternally patient and showed them how to solve the puzzles he had on his desk, making them feel right at home. He possessed a youthful quality that never seemed to diminish.

I am forever grateful to him both professionally and personally. Narl will be sorely missed, but his impact on those who have had the good fortune to know him, will never fade.

Monique Tavares

Narl was my closest friend at Georgia Tech. We worked together for some 30 plus years. We enjoyed many spirited discussions, did a three mile run most days at noon, and spent hours together doing Georgia Tech business. We both shared a love for getting it right, when many times that meant going against the grain.

Narl came to my defense many times when I would go out on a limb to support an unpopular position but one that was "right." I always knew he had my back.

Narl had a gift for mentoring those around him without them even knowing they were being mentored. I could go on for hours about my good friend about his deep knowledge of birds, and how things in the natural world work. My favorite tidbit of knowledge came with his explaining "wind chill." I knew of it but never really thought about what was really happening. Ever since that time we would blame any negative happening on "wind chill." I have a deep love for Narl and his family and will miss him greatly.

Pete Dawkins


Narl came to Georgia Tech in 1973 from Texas A&M and spent the rest of his illustrious career with us, both in the Woodruff School and during a variety of stints in the College of Engineering Dean's office where he served as interim dean on three occasions and retired as an Associate Dean in 2006.

From 1973 to 1983, Narl served as an Associate Professor in our nuclear engineering program. In 1983 he became an Associate Director in mechanical engineering and was elevated to Associate Dean in the College of Engineering in 1990. In recognition of his service to Georgia Tech he was bestowed the title of Professor Emeritus when he retired.

A respected educator and administrator, Narl served on many committees, including chairing the Technical Safety Review Committee for the decommissioning of the Neely Nuclear Reactor and the removal of C0-60 form the Neely Building and serving on the facilities program committees for MRDC I & II, ES&T, and several labs. Narl also generously gave of his time for student organizations, advising student organizations and serving on the advisory boards of both the Women's Leadership Conference and the Women's Center.

As an educator Narl was honored with outstanding teaching awards at Texas A&M (1973) and Georgia Tech (1977), along with the Engineer of the Year in Education Award from the Atlanta section of the ASME (1988), the Omicron Delta Kappa Friend of the Student Award (1992) and the Good Guy in Education Award from the Georgia and Atlanta Women's Political Caucuses in 1997.

Narl was a friend and mentor to many of us in the Woodruff School and our thoughts are with his family during this time as they celebrate his life and mourn his passing.

A memorial service for Narl Davidson is being held on Saturday, January 11. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Friendship Center at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church or the Alzheimer's Association of Georgia