Passing of Kenneth Grant Courage, Emeritus Professor, University of Florida Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering

Kenneth Grant Courage

It is with deep sorrow and regret that we note the peaceful passing of our colleague and friend, Prof. Kenneth G. Courage, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, on December 4, 2021, with his wife of many years, Myrna, at his side. Ken lost a lengthy battle with several forms of cancer.

Ken was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada), on December 31, 1939, where he grew up and met his wife-to-be. He earned a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Manitoba in 1962, then went to work for the Metropolitan Corporation of Greater Winnipeg as a Traffic Signals Engineer. He then travelled to Texas A&M University to earn a M.S. degree in Civil Engineering (1968), and worked as an Assistant Research Engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute. During this time, Ken was a key researcher on, and eventual Principal Investigator of, a major National Cooperative Highway Research Program project (NCHRP 20-3) in Detroit, Michigan. Also during this period, he and Myrna were married and she joined him in Detroit.

Following graduation, he joined Kelly Scientific Corporation in Washington, D.C., as a Senior Transportation Engineer, 1968-1971.

Next, he joined the faculty of the (then) Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Florida as an Assistant Professor (1971-1976), rising through the ranks to Associate Professor (1976), and finally to full Professor (1988), until he retired as Emeritus Professor. When asked for Ken’s actual retirement date, Myrna replied, “It was over about 10 years,” but that period started in 2007. While Ken was at UF, he was one of three professors in the academic Transportation Group of CE and a key researcher (and developer) in the (then) Transportation Research Center, eventually heading up both.

Having degrees in both electrical and civil engineering, and possessing a keen analytical mind, Ken was uniquely qualified to become a national leader in the area of traffic engineering, specializing in traffic modeling software development, traffic data collection and analysis, transportation system modeling, highway capacity, and general traffic engineering. He developed a number of applications for early Apple computers and distributed over 700 licenses under the program name McTrans, which in fact was the forerunner of the Center for Microcomputers in Transportation (also McTrans) at the University of Florida. He also directed a number of research projects, for sponsors such as the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT), NCHRP, and U.S. DOT. Many of these involved traffic model integration and modeling of traffic control systems. He was the lead or co-leader for the development and presentation of dozens of training courses on signal optimization in all parts of the country. His contributions to the technology of traffic control are evident in many publications that appear in the literature and in a variety of traffic operations software applications.

Ken was an active member of a number of committees or other specialty subgroups of several national and regional professional associations, as follows:

  • Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), of which he is a Life Fellow, where he served many years as an ITE Journal Peer Reviewer and on the Transportation Developers Task Force. He was very active in the ITE District 10/Florida and PR Section—for which he served a term as president.  
  • Intelligent Vehicle-Highway Systems (IVHS, now Intelligent Transportation Systems, ITS) America on the Advanced Transportation Management Systems (ATMS) Committee, and moderately active in IVHS/ITS Florida.       
  • Transportation Research Board (TRB, his most prolific professional service outside the academic-research community) in which he was also a peer reviewer and a member of the following Committees: Effects of Quality of Traffic Signal Progression on Delay, Methodology for Evaluating Highway Improvements, Freeway Operations, Highway Capacity and Quality of Service, Traffic Flow Theory and Characteristics, Traffic Signal Systems, and Traffic Simulation (serving five years as chairman of its predecessor Joint Subcommittee). He also served on a number of task forces, NCHRP technical panels, and other TRB activities, including attendance of over 40 consecutive TRB Annual Meetings.

Ken’s expertise and accomplishments were recognized by multiple organizations that presented him with the following awards and honors:·        

  • Traffic Simulation Lifetime Achievement Award, Transportation Research Board, Traffic Simulation Joint Subcommittee, 2020·       
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) America, Florida Chapter, Honor Roll, 2007      
  • Institute of Transportation Engineers Traffic Engineering Council Award, 1995   
  • University of Florida Research Achievement Award 1992, 1993    
  • Sherwood H. Hiller Distinguished Service Award, presented by the Institute of Transportation Engineers, District 10, 1991    
  • Institute of Transportation Engineers Past President’s Award, 1973      
  • Highway (now Transportation) Research Board Award, 1972    
  • Institute of Transportation Engineers Past President’s Award, Honorable Mention, 1969

Upon (semi-) retirement Ken and Myrna moved from Gainesville to their (expanded) “vacation home” in New Smyrna Beach, but Ken kept working part time, usually commuting on Fridays, mentoring grad students and wrapping up contracts. It was about 2012 when the heavy involvement with UF tapered off. Then, being untied from his desk, they greatly accelerated their travels to all points of the compass on every continent and ocean, including Antarctica (at least just offshore from it). For many years, in both home locations, they were avid Gator football fans, sharing season tickets with their friend and partner, and (while they were still in Gainesville) hosting many pre- and post-game parties. Their daughter, Christi Wiltse, and her family live in Atlanta.

Ken Courage was one of those very few people who truly deserves to be called a “giant of our profession!” He is missed.

“Ken certainly had a very accomplished professional career, and those accomplishments speak for themselves. I would like to say a few words about what it was like to work alongside, and directly with, Ken for many years” said Scott S. Washburn, Ph.D., P.E.Professor Dept. of Civil and Coastal Engineering, Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment. Dr. Washburn continued “Ken was a great colleague and mentor for me. While Ken frequently offered helpful advice for navigating the responsibilities and demands of being a university professor, it was my observations of how he conducted himself professionally that was most valuable to my career development. Ken set the gold standard for professional integrity. When working with Ken, it was always crystal clear that you do the right thing, and you do things right. There were no shortcuts and quality always took precedence over quantity. If you made a mistake, you own up to it, and do whatever it takes to make it right. And Ken was always humble about his own capabilities and accomplishments. He was always sensitive to making sure that all contributors to a project were properly acknowledged, sometimes at the expense of underselling his own contributions. A couple of Ken’s sayings have always stuck with me…”Your reputation carries far more weight than the number of pages in your CV” and “You do not want to become one of those people about whom others say, ‘you cannot trust them any further than you can throw them’”.Dr. Washburn added “while Ken took the work he did very seriously, he did not take himself too seriously. He had a great sense of humor, often self-deprecating, which always made working with him enjoyable. This was even more the case outside of the office. He was one of those people that you truly enjoyed being around, whether it was a research project meeting, faculty meeting, social gathering, or especially in a boat he was piloting through the Ponce de Leon Inlet. Ken was truly one of a kind, and one of the ‘good guys’, and will be greatly missed”.                                                                                                                      

Further honoring Ken: people have asked about a service; Myrna said there will be a “Celebration of Life” when the pandemic has receded sufficiently. At least some of Ken’s awards will be displayed at that event, then they will be on permanent display in the UF Transportation Institute (formerly Transportation Research Center). Myrna asks that in lieu of flowers, those wishing to donate may do so to the “Kenneth G Courage Scholarship” fund in the Civil and Coastal Engineering Department at UF.

You may do so online by credit card at the following:

You may also send a check or other instrument to the following, which is the parent school to which the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering belongs:

Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment (or ESSIE)

University of Florida 365 Weil Hall P.O. Box 116580

Gainesville, FL 32611

Please make the check payable to Ken’s scholarship fund, or if you make it out to the University of Florida Foundation, mention the fund (#026289) in the Memo.

On behalf of Dr. Myrna Courage and Ken’s close friends and colleagues, thank you for your tribute to a wonderful man, both professionally and personally.