Harry A. Tow, PE, AICP


By Mike Ratajski


A Visalia Legend

It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we share the peaceful passing of QK co-founder Harry Tow, PE, AICP. He was 94 years old.

Throughout his 48 years at Quad, Quad Knopf, and now QK, Harry shared his insight and wisdom with those of us who had the privilege to work with him. He was an incredible mentor, friend, and positive influence, and was devoted to service of his community through his consulting work, literally for as long as possible.

Over the last 60+ years, Harry established an extraordinary record of service to our Central Valley community as a city official, professional engineer and planner, business owner, mentor, and church, and community leader. He has been recognized for his professional skills in civil engineering, environmental planning and city management, as well as his personal contributions in leading young adults and passion for creating economic growth in the Central Valley.

As an ASCE Lifemember (ASCE member since 1974), Harry was a tireless ambassador for the engineering community.  He served on many boards and engineering committees with professional organizations where service to the ASCE organization was leveraged ten-fold by his professionalism and involvement with other services to his profession.

Harry had been on the water engineering front decades before the California water crisis and was a key member of the State Water Resources Control Board (the “old” statewide unpaid board, which included representatives from industry, districts, environmental community, etc. and preceded the present structure). He was also:

  • Chair of the League of Cities Environmental Committee
  • President of the California Water Environment Association (CWEA, previously known as WDCF)
  • President of the Water Environment Federation (WEF)
  • A Lifemember of APWA as well as long-time member of environmental and planning organizations

As a child in 1938, Harry moved with his parents to Long Beach, CA, from his small town of Marshalltown, Iowa. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the Navy V-12 fliers program while concurrently attending university. Harry graduated with a bachelor’s degree from USC in civil engineering in 1947, as well as a master’s degree in 1952 in the same field.

After receiving his undergraduate degree, Harry secured his first professional employment with the County of Ventura as an assistant hydraulic engineer in 1947. Within a year, he had advanced to the City of Los Angeles as a design engineer, and provided supplemental design work to the private international firm of Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Manderhall.

In 1956, Harry and his family moved to Visalia, where he remained a public employee as the City Engineer. In 1958, Harry became the City Manager for Visalia, where he remained for 14 years. Harry’s tenure as a City Manager included the revitalization of downtown. The emphasis on preserving downtown during Harry’s time as City Manager was very important because that was when downtown was first being challenged economically by the first shopping centers and malls along Hwy 198 and Mooney Blvd. in Visalia.

Harry Tow’s tenure as a City Manager for Visalia oversaw incredible improvements and development for the community. Along with a number of dedicated city councils and exceptional staff members, Harry was instrumental in helping to shape the community as it stands today. Among the achievements that he takes pride for his share in their evolution are: the successful creation of the downtown Visalia convention center; the transfer of Kaweah Delta Hospital from the City to the Kaweah Delta Hospital District and the further development and expansion of the current facility; the revitalization of the North Visalia community; the preliminary steps to protect, preserve, and revitalize the City’s downtown area, as well as provide crucial parking capacity.

Even though Harry’s schooling was in engineering, he is also an expert in California environmental law (CEQA) and earned his AICP certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners. He had been preparing EIRs since CEQA first became law in 1970 for projects throughout the Central Valley as diverse as hospitals, shopping centers, colleges, large dairies, and manufacturing complexes. He used his engineering and planning expertise to help lay the groundwork for City’s plan policy and the development of the Plaza Regional Park Facility.

Eventually, in 1972, Harry left the City and co-founded Quad Consulting to provide engineering, planning, and management assistance to both public and private clients. In 1998, Quad merged with Knopf Engineering and formed what is now operating as QK (an employee owned company) with offices in Visalia, Clovis, Merced, Bakersfield and Porterville. Harry continued his lifelong mentorship to others while continuing working almost full time as a Principal Engineer and Environmental Planner until the age of 94.

Harry gave selflessly of his time and experience by helping people in the art of professionalism and ethical practices.

During the formation of Quad Knopf, Harry took a firm stand of the ethics and values that one must possess while representing a client as a City Engineer or a hired consultant. With the Board of Directors, they established that the company would operate as “uncompromisingly ethical” in all business endeavors. At times when contracts were vague or lines were unclear, the guidance that Harry provided centered on the question “which decision is morally sound?” Harry would rather lose business or profit than compromise the integrity of the firm or the staff employed.

As a community member, Harry instilled these ethics into our youth as a Boy Scout Cub master and committee member of a local service club-sponsored troop.  His enduring mark is imprinted on the lives of all who were fortunate enough to work with him.

In addition to his lifelong leadership with the Boy Scouts, Harry served on the board for the College of the Sequoias Foundation, Kaweah Delta Hospital Foundation, St Paul’s Episcopal School, and Diocese of Camp San Joaquin. He was also the former President of the Tulare County Industrial Park, Visalia Rotary Club, and San Joaquin Valley City Manager’s Association.

Harry and his high school sweetheart, Shirley, were married for 73 years. Together they had three sons; their late son John, Bill who resides in Australia and works as the head of the Department of International Relations and University of Australia, and Robert who owns an electronics business in Three Rivers, CA.

Harry left an incredible legacy – one our Central Valley community will forever be grateful for. We will miss him very much and cherish the time that we worked alongside him.

Thank you, Harry. For everything.

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