Harry Phelps (Date of Birth: 4th Feb 1929)

Trinidad and Tobago Icons Vol 2

Professor Harry Phelps has made lasting contributions to the development and evolution of the Faculty of Engineering at The University of the West Indies (UWI) and to the engineering profession as a whole.

Harry Orville Phelps was born on 4th February, 1929 in Belmont, Trinidad. He received his primary education at Belmont Intermediate School and won a Government Exhibition to Queen’s Royal College (QRC) in 1940. He graduated at the top of his class in the Science Group of the Higher School Certificate Examinations, earning a Colonial Development and Welfare Scholarship to read for a degree in civil engineering at the University of Wales (Swansea), United Kingdom in 1949. He graduated with First Class Honours in 1953 and returned to Trinidad.

A keen sportsman, Phelps was adept at football and an excellent sprinter. He was a member of the football team at QRC and his university. He even represented Trinidad in 1948 as part of the “19 and under” football team that played against Haiti. In 1947, he was champion sprinter at QRC and a member of the QRC relay team that won the National 19 and Under Championship in that year. Despite his love of sports, he gave up these activities in 1955 to concentrate on a career in academia.

In the 1950s, he held the post of Assistant Drainage Engineer in the Drainage Division, Works and Hydraulics Department, where he was responsible for the design and construction of major drainage works and attained the status of a full professional engineer. In 1961, just as he was promoted to the post of Chief Drainage Engineer, the opportunity arose to teach at the newly established UWI’s Faculty of Engineering.

Phelps proved invaluable to the faculty, especially during its genesis. He was one of its first appointees, heavily involved with the construction of the faculty’s buildings. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1970 and later to Professor in 1974. Professor Phelps was Head of the Department of Civil Engineering for 12 years, from 1972 to 1994 and, upon reaching retirement age, was made Professor Emeritus in 1995. He also served as the University’s Public Orator for 20 years, from 1974 to 1994.

As a result of his competence and expertise, Professor Phelps has served as chairman of many statutory boards, including the Institute of Marine Affairs and the Bureau of Standards. He was Deputy Chairman of the Water and Sewerage Authority and a Member of the Board of the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission. He is a Foundation Member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago, serving as President in the 1970s, and is a Fellow of this Association and of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the United Kingdom.

In 1979, Professor Phelps was awarded the Chaconia Medal (Gold) for long and meritorious service to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the sphere of engineering. He also received the Cooper Bronze Medal from the Institution of Civil Engineers for research in fluid mechanics.

Today, Professor Phelps still lectures in the Master’s Programme in Environmental Engineering at UWI, St. Augustine.