January 1, 2003
By Norman R. Ball, Ph.D.
Dr. Jack Mollard, P.Eng., P.Geo., collects awards. He started with the Governor General's Medal when he graduated from high school in 1941, and later picked up among others the Keefer Medal, the R.F. ...
Dr. Jack Mollard, P.Eng., P.Geo., collects awards. He started with the Governor General’s Medal when he graduated from high school in 1941, and later picked up among others the Keefer Medal, the R.F. Legget Award, and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Allied Arts Medal. He really hit his stride in 2002, with the Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan Meritorious Achievement Award and induction as an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Jack describes his company, J.D. Mollard & Associates in Regina, Saskatchewan, as a “small firm of engineers and geoscientists specializing in applied multidisciplinary airphoto and remote sensing.” That small firm has completed more than 5,000 consulting assignments on every continent as well as a nearby planet — Mars.
Somehow he also found the time to write or co-author more than 125 scientific and technical papers and two textbooks, without neglecting family or community service.
As an M.Sc.E. graduate student at Purdue University, Jack came under the spell of an unconventional professor by the name of Don Belcher, with whom he pioneered the interdisciplinary field of airphoto terrain analysis (later they used the same skills in satellite image analysis). Jack followed Belcher to Cornell and in 1952 earned a Ph.D in geology and civil engineering. He founded his company in 1956.
Years ago, when a kindergarten teacher asked Jack’s son Patrick what his Dad did, Patrick (now an engineer, as is one of Jack’s two daughters) said firmly, “He’s a finder.” The word perfectly captured Jack’s activities, which included finding potential airstrips or landing sites for amphibious craft in wartime, or locating groundwater, gravel, gold, opals, oil, landslide-susceptible areas, or whatever else people were looking for.
When I talked to Jack, he said he saw himself as a sleuth, and added that a sleuth is someone who uses clues to discover things. He sees engineering as much more than solving client problems. It’s about crossing boundaries and searching out knowledge in unexpected places.
As he talked about looking for gravel deposits near a northern community, he mentioned that good engineers should also be good storytellers. Finding the gravel was the easy part. Helping the community decide what to do with it was the hard part. “In our meetings, we had native and non-native, no formal schooling to Ph.D., hikers and environmentalists to gravel truck operators.” Instead of numbing them with scientific data, Jack told them “stories about how the land was formed and changed, how the gravel came to be there and what the land might become. I got them excited and interested in looking at gravel as part of a bigger picture that they were all a part of.” In addition to finding the gravel, he drew them into a story about what gravel meant and could mean, and helped them decide how best to use the resource.
When I asked Jack about his most important projects, I thought I’d hear about some unusual project in some exotic locale. Instead he told me about “locating and developing groundwater supplies for over 100 prairie towns and villages between 1956 and 1976.” His work meant that “people no longer had to haul water in winters that dipped to 40 below.”
Jack gauges his work by whether or not it makes life better. He’s found more than water, oil, and gravel — he’s found a goal that we should all aim for. Thanks, Jack.
Dr. Norman Ball is director of the Centre for Society, Technology and Values, University of Waterloo, Ontario.