Chris Parker, 1940–2016

The following Tribute to Chris Parker was given by Mike McConnell at the BTS on 14th December 2017, ahead of the Chris Parker Memorial Lecture by Chris’s son Tommy.

Chris was a passionate professional Engineer who loved the challenges of tunnelling. He was a man with an intellectual curiosity, a natural leadership, decision making skills and a fine sportsman, despite having three heart attacks in his working career.
Having left the academic environment of Cambridge in 1963 with an MA in Civil Engineering, Chris was soon to join the cut and thrust of Balfour Beatty in the UK, but initially with their Designer: BB Projects and Engineering at their Bow Bell's House, near St Pauls, on Intake designs for a Hydro project in Nigeria. Chris was then a site Engineer at Dungeness Nuclear Power Station up to 1967, to ensure the necessary site experience for Chartered status.
A range of tunnelling projects were then undertaken from 1967 to 1976, including: Section Engineer / Sub Agent on the Victoria Line (Victoria to Vauxhall); first appointment as Agent, on Moorgate Station on redevelopment works (Barry Couchman joined BB on this project and can recall the Miner's Foreman arriving at work in a suit and bowler hat); Agent on Bond Street new Ticket Hall under Oxford Street (Chris was always keen to work at least one night shift per week, to fully appreciate issues arising); and then Contracts Manager on UK tunnels: Fleet Sewer, N London; Sewers in Birmingham and back to the Fleet Line-Bond Street Station Tunnels.
It should be noted that during this period of intense tunnel works, Chris was asked to spend an important year in 1970, in the East End, at the Becton Sewerage Works. This was in the era of serious union troubles in the UK industry at large; "Fred the Red", who was the union convenor for the Construction and Allied Trades, was holding the contract to ransom. Chris's role was to "manage" Fred on a daily basis, controlling his ability to disrupt the works. After one year the mission was achieved with Chris's diplomatic skills and he then returned to his tunnelling responsibilities.
Windsor Jenkins, our company Electrical Engineer, was involved in many of Chris's early jobs but the conversation rarely related to ohms or amps but mainly by how many points were Wales going to get beaten by England or Scotland, in the 5 Nations rugby!
There was then an intensive bidding period from 1976 to 1979 for Chris: on a Power Station in Thailand, Victoria Hydro plant in Sri Lanka and Aberdeen Sewer Outfall.
Upon award of the Aberdeen project, Chris was appointed Contracts Manager and was part of a team of just four (all living in caravans) on the project, with Terry McDonald, Martin Banham and a GF, (Terry would also become an International Director of Balfour Beatty Construction International Ltd (BBCIL) and recently advised that a similar project today would probably involve 40 staff!).
Chris then moved back into Head Office in Croydon and was responsible for Estimating and Engineering Services, for BB Southern, Special Projects, and was involved in successful tenders for: Jebel Ali port, Guildford Underpass and HK Metros.
In mid-1976, Chris, together with lifelong colleague and friend, Geoff Lloyd, was asked to visit Bangkok for a prequalification for a number of tunnelling contracts. The wining and dining, involved in such challenges, must have given Chris the appetite for the International Business of the company.
In the period 1981 to 1991, Chris's responsibilities would then focus on Head Office support for the Victoria Dam and Samanalawewa Hydro in Sri Lanka, Cairo Waste Water project and the Mrica Hydro Electric project in Indonesia. BBCIL was formed at the start of this era. I was indeed fortunate to join BB at this time, on the Mrica Hydro and then on a Highway project in the Omani desert. Having a mentor like Chris back at HQ, was always so important when you were working in remote overseas locations. On the Mrica project, which was a JV with Skanska, with the funding also coming from UK and Swedish governments, the challenge for Chris was to ensure that funding for construction plant procurement was on a 50:50% basis, i.e. making sure Skanska did not flood the site with Volvo dump trucks and we got our 50% share of DJB trucks!
The Pergau Hydro started up in Malaysia in 1991, and there was useful feedback and "lessons learnt", from the previous hydros and Chris made considerable contributions on the JV Board with BB and Cementation.
At this stage, Chris was General Manager and Director of BBCIL and it is no secret that we had a number of MDs come and go over this period, often at short notice, but Chris was always able to work behind the scenes and keep "continuity going". Chris never sought the limelight but was able to command great respect from all levels of management and other divisions in the company, and JV Partners. Quite simply, Chris was a real Stalwart of BB, always demonstrating the finest leadership skills.
In recent days, I have received an email from Ro Patel from Dubai, on the Jebel Ali airport contract, advising, "I worked for Chris for 20 years and he was a true professional and great mentor".
Chris retired from BB in 2000, following 37 years of continuous employment and then worked in consultancy roles up to 2006. In recent years, Chris so enjoyed time with his 10 grandchildren and often quoted, "Retirement is very under-sold!" He also enjoyed continuing to play golf with his mates.
Chris passed away peacefully on 29th June 2016, aged 76.
At heart, Chris was a family man and it was nice that his wife Mary, daughters Catherine and Juliette and son Ned, were able to attend the lecture, together with Tommy.
Chris was thanked for all that he had given BB, and the construction industry at large. The BTS were advised, that as Civil Engineers, we will endeavour to maintain Chris's standards, enthusiasm and integrity.