Lee Petrella, vice president of Thornton Tomasetti’s New York office and known to his colleagues as “Big Lee,” died on Monday, Aug. 20, in Astoria, Queens. He was 54.


Petrella, who became vice president in 2008, had been battling cancer for many years, says a Thornton Tomasetti spokeswoman. He is survived by his wife, Luanne.

Petrella began his career with Thornton Tomasetti’s predecessor company Lev Zetlin Associates in 1980 after graduating from City College of New York (CUNY) with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He was a member of the Thornton Tomasetti building structure team and worked on many notable projects that spanned market sectors including the World Financial Center in Manhattan; the Liberty Newark International Airport South Area Cargo Complex in Newark, N.J.; and the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Petrella was known as an “engineer’s engineer,” says Thornton Tomasetti. He was a licensed professional engineer in New York and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and American Concrete Institute. In 1987, Petrella received the James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation Bronze Award.

In Petrella’s memory, Thornton Tomasetti is setting up a paid summer internship program in association with CUNY. The details have not yet been finalized.

“Lee was one of the smartest, hardest working and most patient engineers that I have ever met,” says Tom Scarangello, chairman and CEO of Thorton Tomasetti. “He was not typically a client-facing team member, but his extraordinary technical skills gave the project team its secret weapon; one that gave you the confidence to tackle the most complex challenges. His legacy of working on groundbreaking projects is matched only by the long line of Thornton Tomasetti engineers, myself included, that he tirelessly mentored and supported.”