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In 1977, Bob Lukens presented Bryant Mather (right) ASTM's award for editorial excellence.

True Grit

by Clare Coppa

Bryant Mather is opinionated, buoyed by 60 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the erudition of his late wife, Katharine. At 85, he is sharp, Churchill-esque, and bullish on quality.

Mather has developed standards for over half a century with ASTM committees such as C01 on Cement which is 100 years old this year. Although Bryant's achievements span two pages in Who's Who in America, he’s not above saying "Hot dog!" when something delights him—an expression from his post-World War I generation.

Born in 1916, Mather experienced all the biggies of the 20th century. He was an Eagle scout while flappers did the Charleston and Bonnie and Clyde sped through America in rickety roadsters. During the Great Depression, he graduated high school and college early by taking accelerated classes. He joined the Concrete Lab of the Corps of Engineers in 1941 and ASTM in 1944. As he became an award-winning geologist, he helped to create ASTM standards that raised the quality of concrete and cement. And he became a stickler for doing things by the book. "I'm still active in C01 and C09 and C27," he asserts in a stalwart voice known for winning debates. "I wrote a nasty negative vote yesterday on a draft standard.

"The whole idea of consensus is apparently something that nobody else in the world has figured out as well as ASTM," he says. "Everybody else in the world thinks that consensus is like the United Nations where each nation has one vote. Well, that's not the way you solve problems in the standards business. You've got to solve problems in the standards business by giving each interest one vote, not each nation."

Nicholas Carino, a research structural engineer with the NIST Building and Fire Research Laboratory, Gaithersburg, Md., values Mather's impact. "I can think of no one other than Bryant Mather who has made a greater contribution to the development of C09 standards related to durability testing and materials specifications," says Carino, the chairman of ASTM Committee C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates. "His uncompromising attitude toward proper use of terminology and development of technically-sound standards has been a role model for those following in his footsteps."

"Bill Cavanaugh and I understood, I think, what ASTM was all about and Jim Thomas is headed in the right direction," says Mather. "He has got us in the international business more rapidly than I would have thought possible and he deserves a great deal of credit." (Cavanaugh was a renowned president of ASTM for 15 years until his death in 1985.)

On Sept. 25, 2001, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers named the lab where the Mathers worked for 50 years "The Katharine and Bryant Mather Building."

In the late '40s, Mather and Corps staff tested all portland blast-furnace slag cement. Their research backed Corps construction as well as ASTM C 595, Standard Specification for Blended Hydraulic Cements. "I suspect my personal contribution to the coordination of standards on blended cement, C 595, was maybe the best thing I did in cement," he says.

C01 chairman Ronald Gebhardt, president, Kiln Technology Inc., Slatington, Pa., calls Mather one of the committee's most influential members. Mather is a past ASTM Board president and honorary member of C01 and C09, which he chaired. Katharine, who died Feb. 4, 1991, was also an award-winning geologist. She authored over 100 technical papers and directed the American Concrete Institute from 1968 to 1971. "We met in graduate school in geology at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and then we got married," says Mather.

Before she retired, Katharine was chief of the Engineering Sciences Division of the Corps' Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Miss. Bryant is its current director emeritus.

"The mail keeps coming and people keep wandering into my office asking me questions that we figured out the answer to 30 years ago," he says, laughing. "If I could not be afflicted with the physical handicaps of old age, I would be enjoying it even more. But I'm enjoying it.

"In 1975 when I was being interviewed as the president-elect of ASTM, they asked me about the future," Mather says. "And I said the future is performance specifications. Well, the future is still performance specifications. I keep talking and I keep voting and we keep moving. Not as fast as some of us would like but faster than a lot of other people want."

Copyright 2002, ASTM