With an engineering career spanning some four decades, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Stephen Lew has done it all. The Boston senior principal has been involved in the design, management and evaluation of hundreds of projects across New England and around the world. Now Stephen is embarking on his next big challenge: retirement. Although he stepped down from full-time work at the end of April, Stephen will continue to be involved in special projects in the Boston office.
Stephen had spent five years working for some of the Boston area’s notable structural engineering firms when in 1981 he joined the Cambridge office of Weidlinger Associates as a project engineer. He hit the ground running, working on a wide range of assignments. Over the course of his long career with the firm, he built up a resume that encompassed Ivy League universities and child care centers, cultural landmarks such as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, and U.S. embassies in Athens, Greece, and Cairo, Egypt. He worked on a string of healthcare projects, including several at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and challenging transportation jobs like the city’s Central Artery/Tunnel project. And he has done scores of projects with government agencies, with the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the General Services Administration among them.
Over the years, Stephen developed a reputation for being meticulous in his work, for completing projects on time and for ensuring that his clients’ needs were well met. He was also generous with his time and talents, helping out where needed and mentoring younger staff members.
As Stephen winds down his career, his friends and colleagues reflect upon his technical skill, eye for detail, professionalism and passion for his work as well as a good restaurant. Here’s what they had to say:
Stephen Lew consulting with other members of the project team during a site visit.
Peter Quigley, principal, Boston: Since joining the firm 30 years ago, I have had the opportunity to work with Stephen on a variety of projects, including One Citizens Plaza in Providence, Rhode Island; the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, and the William D. Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Of these, the most exciting was the Mullins Center, a 10,000-seat multipurpose arena and ice rink. The design of the roof truss system was quite unique and under Stephen’s guidance, I performed a majority of the computer modeling, design and project management for the project. The most educational—and stressful—part came near the end when some questions regarding the performance of the building were raised by an outside peer reviewer. Stephen worked with me days, nights and weekends to formulate a successful rebuttal to the claims. At times like that, it is very important for someone to have your back, and Stephen was there when I needed him. Thank you, Stephen, and enjoy your retirement.
Minhaj Kirmani, principal emeritus: Steve Lew and I worked together on many large-scale projects, including several high-rise commercial office buildings, mixed-use complexes and hotels. In the late 1980s, he served as project manager and I was principal in charge for the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, and a new embassy and ambassador’s residence in Cairo, Egypt. We visited these cities together during the initial project phases and had the opportunity to see some of the sights, including the Giza pyramids. Steve executed all of these projects successfully and gained the respect of architects, developers and construction managers. His relationships with several of these early clients continued and as he became a principal, he did many more projects with them.
Stephen Lew in Cairo, Egypt 1988.
Wayne Siladi, associate principal, Boston: I’ve known Steve for the 27 years that I have been at the firm. He has come to be a colleague, mentor and good friend. We shared many clients and projects that ranged from simple to complex. Steve was always there to lend a hand, including assisting with the design of a mat slab for a courthouse when I was needed by my family, and to listen to me complain about a technical problem or conflict. He always reflected back wisely. Steve and I also had our share of adventures, mostly of the culinary type. While on a site visit in Mobile, Alabama, we decided to go out for barbecue. Steve was not fond of settling for the nearest restaurant, so he asked our taxi driver to take us to the best barbeque place in Mobile. After a night of eating finger-licking good pulled pork, brisket and all the sides, we were glad to have the phone number of our taxi driver, Big Al, because we had absolutely no idea where we were—or if we were even still in Alabama. I wish Steve well in the next leg of his journey and hope that retirement has him strumming the guitar, searching for decorative glass, playing tennis and looking for the next odd restaurant. Best of luck, Steve, and see you soon.
Michael Oakland, vice president, Boston: I first got to know Steve almost 30 years ago when I was still with Haley & Aldrich. We were brainstorming how to install post tensioning into an historic chimney on Deer Island in Boston Harbor. Since then, we have met for lunch every month or so, trading off who pays the bill. In all that time, we have only eaten at four different restaurants, and that was only because of office relocations. Steve’s core principal of loyalty extended to restaurants that provided good service, and that was the sole reason for our sticking to so few lunch spots. While I can’t speak for why Steve has stayed in the Weidlinger/Thornton Tomasetti family for so many years, I can say that some of that commitment has rubbed off on me. While I will never match Steve Lew’s 36 years with the same firm, at more than 11 years, this is now the longest I have been at one place and feel the positiveness.
Stephen joined the Cambridge office of Weidlinger Associates in 1981.
Christina Maglio, senior marketing coordinator, Boston: As a nontechnical person, I sometimes needed help understanding engineering concepts and technical language. Steve was my go-to person for engineering information. He always took the time to explain things, often providing examples or graphics to illustrate his point. The thing I will miss about Steve most, however, are our discussions on random topics, everything from politics and family to his collection of vintage glassware to food, wine and traveling. He would always get excited if I was traveling to a place that he had been to. He would draw maps of that city’s best streets for walking or sites that should not be missed.
Stephen Lew goes over some drawings with drafter Bill Baguskas.
Shawn Leary, associate principal, Boston: Early in my career with the firm, I was working on a project with Steve and was struggling with how to draw some details. I didn’t know where to start. Steve told me, “Draw what you know and the rest will follow.” Twenty-five years later, I still follow Steve’s advice. It has helped me work through numerous detailing challenges.
Paul Harvey, senior building information modeler, Boston: Steve and I have worked together on countless projects over the past 31 years. The very first one was One Citizens Plaza, a nice 13-story, steel-framed office building in Providence, Rhode Island. This was back in the era of freehand, 2-D drafting using pencil on Mylar. You had to meticulously plan out the placement of everything, and that’s how I learned to put together a building. Steve was—and still is—extremely picky about how the drawings looked. He insisted that I know what every line represented, but was always willing to explain things. He would often quiz me and could tell by the look on my face if I was bluffing. Since that project, Steve would always grade me on my drawings. His famous B-minus became a joke between us. Trust me, a B-minus was well-earned and I would say, “I’ll take it.” He always told me what he wanted and to shoot for perfection. It might sound cliché, but he made me a better modeler. I hate to admit it, but I will miss working with Steve. I wish him the best of luck in his retirement.
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