A Life's Story
August 12, 2023
An eminently civil, well-engineered life
U of M professor whose career took him all over the globe was a down-to-earth husband, father, grandfather and recreational hockey player
By: Janine LeGal
It’s no surprise that a Prairie boy raised on a farm covered in snow and ice for a big chunk of the year would grow up to become an expert in building roads and runways in places that endure extreme conditions.
Kenneth Morgan Adam travelled the world and worked on all seven continents as a consulting civil engineer.
He designed and oversaw the creation of the airport runway at Rothera, the British Antarctic Survey logistics centre for the Antarctic and home to laboratories and other facilities for a wide range of research.
His three- to four-month trips, in the years preparing the Antarctic runway’s construction, involved flying to the Falklands and boarding a ship. As a result of his efforts, a challenging three-week-long voyage was no longer the only way to reach that destination.
He also worked in Canada’s North, where he did all kinds of projects relating to pipelines and drainage. His profession kept him on the move, travelling to distant places such as China, Egypt and Greece.
When he wasn’t working overseas, the University of Manitoba engineering professor, noted by his students for challenging them to do their best, was excelling as a member of the Fort Richmond Oldtimers hockey team, taking great pride in his three daughters and eight grandchildren, and delighting in dancing with his wife, Marilyn. Though he relished travelling to faraway places, his favourite destinations were the family cottage at Moose Lake and vacation spots in Hawaii and Florida, where he and Marilyn enjoyed the beach and ballroom dancing.
Wherever he was, he was entirely present to the task at hand and to those around him.
Doc Adam, the husband, father and grandfather, died on July 11 at the age of 83.
Former national team hockey player and sports psychologist Cal Botterill is a longtime family friend who views Ken as an example of a life well-lived.
“What a great person at work, at play, and with family and friends. The world needs more like him. Ken was always a bright, perceptive, dedicated, and caring soul. What a genuine guy. There had to be times that he was busy but he always found time to pause and relate. He loved hockey and he always played with perceptiveness, poise and creativity. The virtual star from Moosomin, Sask. experienced the joy of playing the game right.
“It was clear that Ken was an amazing engineer and professional. Ken and Marilyn are exceptional parents — the stories of their daughters provide evidence of accomplishment, gratitude and compassion. Ken deserves every tribute he gets. He was a model professional and person. It was my privilege to get to know him. I can still see his smile.”
Born in 1940 in Elkhorn,the youngest of four children grew up on a farm in Fleming, Sask. Adam attended high school in Moosomin, then later the University of Manitoba where he completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering. He continued pursuing his education and achieved a PhD from Colorado State University. Adam began as a professor at the U of M before engaging also in consulting engineering with various companies.
On campus was where Adam met Marilyn, the love of his life. They were married in 1961.
The couple settled into their new life near the university. Their youngest daughter Arlyn Filewich describes them as loving parents and ultimate role models of what marriage could be.
“On their 40th anniversary, my dad asked my mom if she’d like to go for a walk to the university, which they did often,” recalls Filewich. “They went for a walk, and the first place they stopped was at the Fletcher Argue building. ‘Do you know the significance of this place?’ my father asked my mother. ‘’This is where I first laid eyes on you.’
They continued on their walk. In front of the administration building, he asked her, ‘Do you know the significance of this?’”
Filewich went on to describe her mother undoubtedly remembering the spot where he’d proposed marriage four decades earlier.
“He got down on his knee, and asked, ‘Would you be mine for another 40 years?’
“A number of friends reached out to us and said how their relationship was so impactful. What the three of us girls have realized is that their loving relationship has shaped a lot of young people my parents may not even know,” adding that all three daughters have remained happily married for more than 30 years.
Friends and neighbours remember the many hours Ken enjoyed basketball on the driveway with his daughters, how proud he was of their athletic accomplishments, and how encouraging he was in their lives.
“My dad was a very involved father. He had his PhD and always told us we were capable of having a PhD in whatever field we chose,” Filewich said.
“He enjoyed all of his travels. He kept a globe with pins of all the places he’d been. At his retirement, we played the song, ‘I’ve been everywhere.’”
Despite his worldwide experience, Adam remained centred in humility, family and local community.
His wife Marilyn recalls the early days in Fort Richmond where they created what became their home for 46 years.
“I like to do a small amount of remodelling all the time,” she said. “By not having to move out and move up, we made things a little bit better all the time by not being extravagant. Sometimes the kids would laugh. There was a leak in the upstairs shower so there’d be a lineup of people waiting to get into the basement shower. Their father would come home at lunch and make four sets of sandwiches. Then he had a 20-minute nap. He was a very functional being. All the things he did had a reason. He could be a better teacher if he had that 20-minute nap.
“Ken was from a farm; I was a small-town girl. Our expectations of greatness were never in our minds. I think for us we had such a simple beginning, you could get along with less than more. Our fathers were interesting people — they worked hard; they didn’t have fancy things. We learned to set our sights high in some areas, lower in others.
“Ken was like my dad in that people said about my dad when he saw them, he would look at them; he wasn’t looking at what else was going on in the world. He just captured you and you were the most important thing in the world.”