Feature Stories

In Memoriam: Norm Wagner

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Feb. 2, 2019

Associate Professor Emeritus Dr. Norman K. Wagner passed away over the weekend on Sunday, January 27, 2019, at the age of 86. Regarded as an outstanding teacher and mentor, Norm leaves a memorable mark for his kindness, generosity and impeccable dedication to The University of Texas at Austin and the Cockrell School of Engineering.

Born in Longview, Washington, he earned a Bachelor and Master of Science in meteorology from the University of Washington in 1954 and 1956, respectively.

Norm came to The University of Texas at Austin after attaining his degrees to begin his professional career at the Cockrell School of Engineering. Norm was a researcher in the Electrical Engineering Research Center and a faculty member in the Atmospheric Sciences program within the Department of Civil Engineering for several years before interrupting his service to the University to pursue his doctoral degree in meteorology at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

His research focused on wind distribution and associated momentum fluxes in the atmospheric boundary layer; the role of the atmosphere in estuarine dynamics; and the temporal and spatial variations in the wind field close to the earth’s surface.

An expert in meteorology, Norm contributed to a wide range of organizations. In 1969, the National Science Foundation appointed Norm to an Urban Meteorology Project where he took observations in Austin, Texas to document the heat island phenomenon and other aspects of urban effects on the weather. He paved the way for advances in environmental engineering and a deeper understanding of the effects of urbanization on the environment. Norm also provided consulting services to Ginn Publishing Company on numerous K-12 science textbook publications distributed throughout the nation.

His contributions to the science community afforded him a position in the Teacher Academy of Science and he was assigned as UT’s scientific representative to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). He was a member of the American Meteorological Society and served two terms as President for the Central Texas Chapter. He served as Director for Atmospheric Science Group at UT Austin from 1972 -1976 and 1980 - 1985. In 1968, Norm was inducted into the Royal Meteorological Society in London.

Throughout his tenure of devoted service, Norm’s accessibility to students never faltered. During his time as Graduate Advisor, the graduate program in the Civil Engineering department grew substantially to become the leading producer of Ph.D.’s in the country. He counseled more students than any other professor during his time at The Cockrell School of Engineering and his teaching reviews were consistently exceptional.

Norm had established himself as an invaluable resource to graduate students, so much so that his students revolted in literal protest when they learned of his retirement. Norm was called into ECJ to address several audacious Ph.D. students who chained themselves to chairs in demonstration. A quiet but articulate man, Norm comforted his students and provided a delicate explanation for his decision. Norm served the Department and University for 34 years before retiring in 1992.

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Norm and Barbara at Norm's retirement celebration. 

He was devoted to his family; his wife of 64 years, Barbara, and two daughters, Cheryl Rugeley (Rob) and Wendy (Kenneth Finch).

A celebration of Norman's life will be held Saturday, March 2, 2019, at 2:00 pm at Cook Walden Funeral Home, 6100 North Lamar, Austin, Texas 78752.