Delon Hampton, who was the first Black president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, died on Jan. 14 from Alzheimer’s disease. Hampton, a geotechnical engineer, educator and role model for all engineers, was 87.
“Delon was the total engineer and a wonderful person,” says Tom Smith, ASCE's executive director. “He had deep technical knowledge and business acumen and he was passionate about professionalism, education and making civil engineering attractive for minorities and underrepresented groups.”
During his 2000 presidential term, Hampton led ASCE to establish the Outstanding Projects and Leaders Awards program, known as OPAL, to recognize and celebrate civil engineering standouts. In 1998, he represented ASCE at the ceremony when former President Jimmy Carter, a chemical engineer, received the Hoover Medal that recognizes "great, unselfish, nontechnical services by engineers to humanity."
Hampton formed the Washington, D.C.-based Delon Hampton & Associates in 1973, at a time when there were few Black-owned engineering firms. In addition to offering civil and structural engineering, DHA serves as a construction and/or program manager. Hampton retired from the 65-person firm in 2018.
Among DHA's high-profile projects are the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Major League Baseball’s Nationals Park, international airports in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., as well as metro rail projects in D.C., Los Angeles and Atlanta. “The visitor center and the D.C. Metro were two of Dr. Hampton’s favorites,” says Mamo Assefa, DHA’s president, who joined the firm in 2001.
Born in Jefferson, Texas on Aug. 23, 1933, Hampton grew up in Chicago. He received his bachelor of science in civil engineering in 1954 from the University of Illinois. He went on to earn his master of science, in 1958, and his doctorate, in 1961—both also in civil engineering—from Purdue University.
Hampton taught civil engineering at Kansas State University, oversaw research at the University of New Mexico and then joined the faculty of Howard University in 1968, where he would teach and conduct for 25 years.
Assefa’s start story, which eventually led him to DHA, serves as an example of Hampton as a role model. Starting in 1987, during his first job inspecting projects outside Minneapolis, Assefa, who is Black, was most often not recognized as the engineer in charge. People mistook the white technician for the engineer, he says.
The repeated experience was discouraging. But an article on the very subject penned Hampton in an ASCE publication resonated with Assefa and gave him hope. “He was talking about my experience,” says Assefa. “I saw that somebody else had made it and I thought, ‘I could too,’” he adds. He joined DHA in 2001.
“Dr. Hampton was so humble and so strong,” says Assefa. “He was a doer and active in associations, especially to promote minorities not just to participate but to excel.”
Hampton’s reach went way beyond mentoring young engineers, which he often did at DHA. He even encouraged them to spread their wings and start their own firms, says Assefa.
Jerry Rogers, a civil engineering professor emeritus at the University of Houston who served on the ASCE board of direction and on ASCE committees with Hampton, calls him an inspiration. “Delon Hampton made a very long-lasting contribution” to the profession, he says.