College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; Graduate School

Clemson University’s civil engineers remember Jack McCormac


Friends and colleagues are fondly remembering Jack McCormac as a beloved Clemson University professor whose seven textbooks made him one of the world’s most notable engineers and have helped teach more than three generations of civil engineering students.

McCormac, who taught at Clemson for 36 years, was 93 when he died on June 3, according to an obituary.

Jack McCormac poses with some of the seven textbooks he has written.

McCormac wrote textbooks on topics ranging from surveying to structural analysis that remain in print and have been translated into several languages. More than 500 colleges and universities around the world have adopted the books, according to the obituary.

In 1999, the Engineering-News Record named McCormac one of the world’s top engineers or architects of the previous 125 years, putting him on the same list with the likes of Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright and Gustave Eiffel.

Jesus M. de la Garza, chair of the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering, said that McCormac helped shape countless students and engineers through his textbooks.

“Professor Jack McCormac was a civil engineering giant whose shoulders were a stepping platform for many to stand on,” de la Garza said. “His legacy as a kind and gentle human being, who inspired many generations of Clemson students, will continue.”

Steve Csernak, a former student, colleague and golf partner of McCormac, remembered him as a popular professor whose upbeat spirit earned him the nickname “Happy Jack.”

“He was a man who cared about students and people and did whatever he could to make their education better,” said Csernak, now a professor of practice and undergraduate program coordinator in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering.

Behind McCormac’s textbook writing was a desire to help students understand. He told IDEAS magazine in 2012 that amid all of engineering’s changes, one thing that remained the same was the difficulty young students experience with understanding complex engineering principles

“When I started, I didn’t know much,” McCormac told the magazine. “I struggled when I learned these things, and I figured other students had the same trouble understanding. I thought about that a lot when I was writing my textbooks.”

McCormac, who started writing textbooks in 1957, sprinkled anecdotes throughout his writing to help keep students engaged.

“I found ways to put interesting statements in there, historical things that would appeal to students,” he told IDEAS. “Like, Napoleon got his first promotion in the military because he could read a topographical map.”

McCormac gave Clemson students a “sneak peak” of his textbooks, copying and handing out his writings so he could test them on the ones who would ultimately benefit, according to IDEAS.

McCormac, a South Carolina native, graduated from Columbia’s Dreher High School at 15 years old and enrolled at The Citadel. His time there was interrupted by two years in the Army Air Corps Weather Service, according to his obituary.

McCormac went on to receive his Bachelor of Science from The Citadel in 1948 and a Master of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1949, both in civil engineering. Clemson University in 1995 honored him with a Doctor of Letters.

Russell Brown, a former civil engineering department chair who collaborated with McCormac on “Design of Reinforced Concrete,” remembered him as creative, witty, intelligent and humble.

“He was so modest, you would never know if you saw him in the civil engineering building that he was who he was,” Brown said. “He stayed up in his office and worked all the time.”

McCormac retired in 1989 and shifted to emeritus status.

Nadim Aziz, who was chair of the department during McCormac’s retirement, remembers him in his office every morning, working on his textbooks and later on his novels. But McCormac always found time for golf in the afternoons, Aziz said.

“He was an impressive person in many regards,” Aziz said. “He was very accomplished, yet he was a very humble and down-to-earth individual. He was funny and had a quick wit about him.”

At 82, McCormac switched from writing engineering text books to detective fiction and published seven installments of his “Sketching Detective” series, according to the obituary. The books drew from his own life experience, including his civil engineering career and love of golf.

McCormac also taught Sunday school at Clemson United Methodist Church, where he was a member for 63 years, and enjoyed tennis, hiking, swimming, fishing, fossil hunting, building stone walls and joining his wife, Mary, on antiquing trips, according to his obituary.

He received numerous local and national awards throughout his career, including induction into the Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineers and Scientists, the highest honor from the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

McCormac is survived by his daughters, Mary Christine McCormac and Ann Rebecca McCormac Johnson, according to his obituary. He was predeceased by his wife.

The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, memorials, if desired, be made to the Jack McCormac Endowed Scholarship, Clemson Foundation, 110 Daniel Drive, Clemson, South Carolina 29631; the Jack C. McCormac, ’48, Civil Engineering Scholarship, The Citadel, 171 Moultrie Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29409; or, to Clemson United Methodist Church, Post Office Box 590, Clemson, South Carolina 29633.

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