Brian James Watt

July 24, 1940 ~ December 28, 2021 (age 81)



Brian James Watt, 81, passed away in North Richland Hills, Texas on December 28, 2021, with his children by his side.   

Born in South Africa, Brian always had an aptitude for math and science. He worked his way through the University of the Witwatersrand (known locally as Wits), earned his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, and then his Master’s degree in 1964, when he was awarded the South African Gold Medal for Top Engineering Student. A subsequent full scholarship to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for his PhD took him and wife Clare Lighton to uncharted territory in the United States.  

Upon completion of his PhD, Brian returned to South Africa to work for Ove Arup where he designed bridges and managed construction projects. This led to his selection as project manager for the revolutionary Centre Pompidou (Beaubourg) in Paris. After Paris, he worked in the Ove Arup London office for four years before emigrating to Texas with his family in 1977. After working for Shell, he formed Brian Watt Associates (BWA) which became world renowned for designing pioneering deep water drilling platforms and floating island technology used in the Arctic. He later worked for Parsons in London followed by Joy Environmental in Texas, during which time he also served as chairman of the National Research Council’s U.S. Marine Board. 

Following a rich and diverse professional career in engineering and business, Brian retired to a life of sailing. His adventures began "island hopping" in the Caribbean and culminated in a five-year sailing trip around the world. During that time Brian remarried, visited remote islands, explored new cultures, survived sailing through a cyclone, and eventually visited over 40 countries along his excursion which concluded in 1998. Brian spent the next few years working and planning for his second circumnavigation. Sadly, in 2003 a severe car accident in Louisiana left him permanently disabled. He had to give up sailing but enjoyed many years living near the water in Key Largo, Florida before moving home to Texas in 2013 to be closer to family. In 2015 the Brian J. Watt (1970) Fund endowment was created to allow future MIT civil engineering students to pursue their dreams.  

Brian lived a life full of learning, adventure, mentorship, and leaves behind an outsized wake. His tenacity, intellect, generosity, and joie de vivre changed the lives of those he knew and loved. He is survived by his sister Merle (Watt) Shirley, children Belinda Watt and her husband Mike O’Keefe, Caroline (Watt) Waggoner and her husband Mark, Trevor Watt and his wife Melanie, and grandchildren Matt, Casey, Aidan and Sophie. He is preceded in death by his parents Gordon and Mabel (Harper) Watt. 

The family plans to hold a private ceremony at sea to say their final goodbyes this spring. 

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