Tom Maze Remembered

These reminiscences were provided by Tom's colleagues, friends, families, and students.

Tom Kane, Executive Director, Des Moines Area MPO

Tom and I worked together in Oklahoma back in the 1980s, he was a University of Oklahoma (OU) engineering faculty member, and he managed the OU campus bus system. I was Tulsa’s MPO director. Tom and OU’s Dr. Leonard West would come to me for assistance about whom to contact in our rural areas to provide FHWA’s LTAP training. Later, I worked with Tom, successfully, to get the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to buy a TranPlan travel demand model license for the university so that Tom’s student’s, particularly his graduate students, would have some hands-on modeling experience before leaving OU. One of Tom’s OU students, many of you may know, was Neal Hawkins, now at InTrans.

Tom and I came to Iowa about the same time (1990-1991). Tom founded the Center for Transportation Research and Education (CTRE, now InTrans) and built it into a nationally and internationally recognized institution. I kidded Tom about how every time I went to an event at CTRE, he was in a bigger space with more staff. Back in the 1990s, Tom did the Des Moines MPO's ITS Early Deployment Study. And so it went.

As some may know, Tom had been in poor health for the last couple of years. Well, Mark Kerper, after a stakeholders' working group meeting, came up to me and asked me if I knew Tom passed away the previous day at the University Hospitals in St. Paul, MN. As Mark said in his e-mail, and I wholeheartedly echo, “A great loss to the transportation and engineering community – it was a privilege to have worked with him.”

Shauna Hallmark, Professor, Iowa State University

Tom was the instigator of the Iowa Transportation Center, which grew into the Center for Transportation Research and Education and has now finally morphed into InTrans. Most of the great things happening at InTrans and the MTC are a result of Tom’s vision and incredible hard work. He always had a greater vision of things than anyone else. He was also one of those people who not only thought great things but put in all the hard work to make them happen.

Many of us who do transportation-related work at Iowa State owe a huge debt to Tom. He was a person who always thought of the group first and didn’t care who got credit. Tom was a tremendous asset for new faculty starting out. He noticed they needed help and jumped in before others even noticed, even if they weren’t in the transportation group or even at Iowa State.

The thing I enjoyed most about Tom was that he had tremendous insight. He was always the person we went to when we were trying to decide whether to go after a national proposal or try something new or just needed to bounce ideas around. He had such a great understanding of national issues, people in the profession, technical knowledge, and savvy that he saw both opportunities and pitfalls and kept us all mostly out of trouble and heading in the right direction.

I also loved the fact that Tom said exactly what he thought. You never had any doubt about where things stood with him. People loved that or hated it, but he was always genuine. When you did receive one of his rare compliments, it was the highest form of praise because he truly meant it.

Tom also had a tremendous amount of compassion.This wasn’t a side he showed often, but those of us who knew him well saw all the times he helped others in their careers, the times he made sure students were taken care of, and the things he did for others. Tom was always ethical and fair in how he treated others. As a new faculty member starting out several years ago, I was always struck by his strong sense of integrity and that he acted accordingly.

Tom’s passing is a tremendous loss. We will all miss Tom’s vision, his insight, his sense of humor, and most of all, his friendship.

Even though I have large—no, gigantic—shoes, to fill, I look forward to the challenge and to continuing in the great path Tom set for the MTC.

Reg Souleyrette, Professor, University of Kentucky

My memories of Tom are personal and I don’t think I can write something that even comes close to being good enough, or to the way I feel about him. I worked with Tom for 16 years and knew him longer than that. He had confidence in me and made my career as he did for many others.  Tom was a person whose actions spoke louder than his words—and that is saying something given some of the things Tom said. 

Tom was genuinely respected by many of the nation’s top engineers and faculty. Two of whom I would like to mention, Mike Walton, National Academy member from the University of Texas, and Bill Garrison of Berkeley both told me I would really enjoy working with Tom when I was considering coming to ISU. They were so right. They both also told me what a loss it was when he died. Three giants of Transportation.

Tom was the most ethical person I know. His highest goal was to serve the public, students and the future of our profession. He hated waste and would sometimes bring a potato to a conference and bake it in the microwave rather than taking “per diem.” He paid for many work related items out of his own pocket. It burned him if everyone didn’t take their job seriously yet he also liked to see other people enjoy themselves. He was genuinely happy for you if something good happened and genuinely concerned if something was wrong.

Tom led by example when developing the Iowa Transportation Center (later called CTRE)—he built the program on his back. He provided many of us with great jobs and an opportunity to serve as he was. He brought us the CTRE family which we all value so much, both professionally and personally. He had some trouble relating to a few folks, and could be intimidating if you didn’t know him. But if you did know him you knew he was shy, caring, and a person you could trust to help you. He had vision and was funny. Tom had a gift of writing and teaching—he was the best teacher I knew. Yet despite his gifts he overcame many personal problems with brute force and determination. I am only sad that we, no, I could not help him more these last few years when he was so sick. Let us all work hard to continue what Tom started, and also pay attention to those around us and realize what opportunity we have. Thank you Tom.

Brian Chandler, Traffic Safety Engineer, FHWA, Jefferson City, MO

A few years ago I was a brand new safety engineer with the Missouri DOT attending one of my first events, a research forum in St. Joseph. Tom Maze contacted me beforehand and invited me to dinner. At 29 years old and a full foot shorter than Dr. Maze, I was initially intimidated. Tom quickly put me at ease with a smile and a handshake, and we enjoyed a meal and conversation. I appreciated him taking the time to help me get started in the world of safety and research, and I've enjoyed working with him through the years.  He will most definitely be missed.

Eric J. Fitzsimmons, Ph.D Student, InTrans

Dr. Maze was one of the most influential professors I have had during my ongoing career here at Iowa State University. I was privileged enough to have him as a course instructor for four of my civil engineering classes since 2002 ranging from an Introduction to Transportation Engineering to a Systems Development laboratory. He had a gift (or maybe it was his personality) to reinforce his class PowerPoint presentations by “going on rants” or using a “personal example” to highlight certain key points. I always wondered if our graduate classes were a way for him to vent to the world, but finally realized he really truly enjoyed teaching and that was his way of getting students engaged. (For “printable quotes” from Dr. Maze’s classes, collected by students, see the section titled “Students Remember Classroom Zingers.”)

I personally believe Dr. Maze was out to create a better world even though his prominent work done at CTRE was for Iowa and Minnesota, the two states that meant a lot to him and his family. I will greatly miss Dr. Maze’s personality, hat throwing, laptop cursing, honesty, late night cubical visits, and the ability to engage future leaders of the transportation industry here at CTRE.

Marilyn Maze, sister of Tom Maze

I used to enjoy referring to Tom Maze as my little brother. I could usually elicit a smile when I applied the word “little” to Tom, but he once was little enough to sit on my lap, and I have a picture to prove it.

That didn’t last long. By the time Tom was five, he looked like an eight-year-old. When he acted like a five-year-old, people thought he was really slow. School was always a frustrating experience for him. He was admonished dozens of times a day to “be careful” because he was so much larger than the other children in his class, and normal boy-energy made adults fear for the safety of the other kids. 

Tom always stood out. Whenever he walked into the room, eyes turned to watch him. By the time he reached middle school, he had turned this unwanted attention into a source of humor. Teachers were not impressed, but his classmates loved it. At that age, no one could have predicted that he would choose a life of teaching!

In high school his size changed from a liability to an asset. Once he joined the football team, he was suddenly valued. With his ample supply of blond hair on the top of his head, he cut a striking figure, as you can see in the photo.

When Tom was in high school, I joined the Peace Corps and was out of the country for three years. When I returned, I caught up with Tom in a college dormitory. When I knocked on the door, his voice told me to come in. When I entered the room, a giant of a man with a bald head rolled out of an upper bunk and gave me a bear hug. It took a while to accept that my bother had disappeared into this man. Now I miss the bear hugs.

Linda Ng Boyle, Associate Professor, University of Iowa

Tom was one of the first colleagues I had the pleasure of working with when I first started at the University of Iowa. I will admit that I was a bit intimidated by Tom when I first met him. He seemed to be quite the gruff guy. But as I got to know him better, I saw right past that to his incredibly big heart. He was someone who spoke his mind and tried to do what was just and right, even if it was not the popular consensus.

Tom always made me feel like my contributions were of value even though I was at the "other Iowa" university. When it came time to re-compete for a university transportation center program, I was honored that Tom asked me to work with him as an associate director. New faculty members know how difficult it can be to get started in academia and in particular, to find good colleagues that will have your back.

Thanks, Tom, for all the above—you will truly be missed.

David J. Plazak, Senior Program Officer, Transportation Research Board

I first met Tom in the mid-1990s when I was working for several state agencies in Iowa as an independent consultant. He had been handed a legislative project entitled “Recommendations for Maximizing the Efficient Use of Iowa's Road Use Tax Fund." It was also known as the Iowa Blue Ribbon Transportation Task Force. Tom was always a very savvy individual and I think he had realized very quickly that doing this project himself and with his own staff might very well alienate his center's main sponsor. So, he got some hired help on board. I ended up working on the Blue RobbonTask Force project as a consultant (not being a very savvy individual and needing cash), but it all worked out well in the end. It was a great relief to both Tom and I that the key staff of the Iowa DOT was still speaking to us at the end of this project. In fact, not too many people know that this report is where the idea for having statewide urban design specifications first gained a lot of traction.

Anyway (to use a favorite Tom Maze expression), through this experience I became fascinated by Tom and his growing band of excellent and loyal staff. This group would eventually become CTRE. I ended up getting on the CTRE train for a dozen years and never regretted it. Tom had endless energy and great passion for transportation. He was incredibly entrepreneurial. I also don't think I've ever met anyone else who is as versatile as Tom was. He could switch topics from ITS to winter weather to trucking to access management absolutely effortlessly. I've never met anybody who worked as hard as Tom did. He was the perfect person to build CTRE with all that energy and passion and hard work. He provided a great environment for people to get new things started and do good work.

Tom's sense of humor was incredible. So was his laugh. You could hear Tom laugh all the way across the building at CTRE. I spent some great times with him in places as diverse as Topeka, Kansas and Prague, Czech Republic. He improved the lives of many people, and not just the hundreds of students he taught and mentored. I was one of those people whose lives were improved by Tom. I owe him a whole lot and will miss him.

Dan Gieseman, CTRE (MS Transportation, 1998)

I am a former student of Dr. Maze, and worked with him at CTRE since graduating in 1998.

I first met Dr. Maze when I was a young (and dumb) graduate student in the interdisciplinary transportation major here at Iowa State. I quickly found that Tom sincerely cared about all his students. I am sure there are many other former students who feel the same way, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all the guidance and support he has given me over the years. 

Thinking back from the perspective of myself and the small group of CTRE students at the time, Dr. Maze was (and remained) larger than life. He had this persona that was always exciting to be around. You never knew what he would say next, and that big laugh of his… And we all loved and are (still) very protective of the Blue Sofa he maintained in his office. 

We called him the “Big Cat”, and this was an affectionate (yet Top Secret) term of endearment for someone whom it was just flatly assumed you must address as “Dr. Maze”, for who knows what would happen if you slipped up and called him “Tom” or he found out he had such a feline nickname. To us students, the moniker “Tom Cat” seemed very befitting of someone with the confidence and swagger like we saw in Dr. Maze (not to mention his career accomplishments). We thought he was cool, and there was no doubt that he really supported us.  

As a staff member, it was fun and a privilege to be part of the burgeoning CTRE led by Dr. Tom Maze as it was at the time. And the principle impression I will never forget is that there was nobody who worked harder than Tom. He was here early, and left late. But always with a smile plus time for a short conversation whenever you happened to bump into him at work.

There are many more stories and memories, and it is most saddening of all when I consider that there will not be more future stories involving ourselves and Tom Maze in them. We will continue on here at CTRE, but things will be VERY different without Tom here. That we miss him is a fact.

Ben Allen, President, University of Northern Iowa

Tom and I worked together for a number of years. We also shared some very good trips together for the transportation center and transportation research projects. He was an extremely effective leader of CTRE. He had a brilliant mind and was very much of an academic entrepreneur.  He will be missed by many, including people at ISU and people in the transportation community at large. I enjoyed working with Tom and learned much from him.

Jim Hunt, Federal Highway Administration
(MS Transportation Planning, 1994)

I am a former student of Dr. Maze. He was also my major advisor, while I attended ISU from 1992 to 1994.

I had been out of school for several years before inquiring into returning to graduate school to pursue an M.S. in Transportation Planning. Dr. Maze was there from the beginning, inspiring me to pursue a career in transportation and encouraging me to join the Midwest Transportation Center as a Research Assistant. Although he continued to receive recognition for professional accomplishments, he was always humble and easy to approach. He made the students feel valued and instilled a passion for learning.

He also had a wonderful sense of humor. One day while I was frazzled trying to develop a research problem statement by reviewing an assortment of prior research reports and articles, Dr. Maze called and said. "Don't worry, come in, let's discuss what you have and I am sure you will be able to find a pony in all the horse (manure)."

My thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Maze's family and his colleagues in the ISU community who were blessed to have worked with him.

Marcia Brink, Communications Manager at InTrans

When I was interviewed at the Iowa Transportation Center (now InTrans) in 1994, I had only a brief face-to-face meeting with the director. After few preliminaries, Tom Maze told me he’d recently had to fire a professional staff person who wasn’t pulling his weight. Tom said he needed people who got their work done well and on time, without imposing on other staff and without any hand-holding or pushing from him. But, if I could do that, I could approach the job however I wanted. My first impressions of Tom from that interview have never changed. He was exactly as he seemed—blunt, busy, driven, but fair and even-handed, even generous, and with an intelligence as big as the body. His persona wasn’t always polished, but it was honest. He didn’t sugar-coat criticism or over-do praise, but he paid us the compliment of not micro-managing our work. Whether deliberately or not, he established an organizational personality of “we’re all in this together,” and now it’s almost impossible to believe he’s not in this together with us anymore. I hope he knew how much I appreciated and respected him.

Roger Anderberg, Iowa Dept. of Transportation (Retired)

I am saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Tom Maze. I first met Tom when he was organizing what became CTRE. At that time I was the Assistant Director of the Office of Local Systems at the Iowa DOT. We worked together closely with the LTAP, Safety Circuit Rider, and the 1992 Iowa Signal Go! program. Those programs were of great value to the cities and counties of Iowa. Later, after I became the Director of Local Systems, I was involved with Tom, Omar [Smadi] and Reg [Souleyrette] in the beginnings of the statewide Pavement Management System. I was impressed with Tom's energy, enthusiasm and dedication to his profession. His ever evident sense of humor made him a delight to work with. His ability to attract a professionally competent and personable staff was truly an amazing talent. Iowa's transportation community is most fortunate that Tom was a part of it. May he rest in peace.

Students Remember Classroom Zingers

“The part of your brain you don’t use is a residual.”

“When you are faced with economic development, there is a lot of voodoo involved.”

 “I don’t know what these variables are, I probably made them up.”

“White goods, you know … washing machines.”

“Well, the horse is out of the barn on this one.”

“I shouldn’t call it a stop light, that’s poor grammar for a traffic engineer.”

“Even if I don’t have the right answer, let’s assume it’s right.”

“Getting high [bus] ridership in a college town is like shooting fish in a barrel.” [2 minutes later] “Sorry about the fish in a barrel comment.”

 “The value of travel time is a black art.”

“Somebody in the bowels of MnDOT figured this out.”

“We don’t know what happens when people disappear, reappear in the network.”

“There’s some slop in the system.”

 [Re 4 stroke engine] “It’s suck, squeeze, bang, blow … sounds like an orgy if you think about it. [In a] two stroke engine, you only have a suck and a squeeze ... Sorry if I offended anyone.”

“So what’s my point? I don’t know, did I have a point?”

One-on-one mentoring
“I’m actually asking you a serious question.”

“Whoa … why did you write this in Polish?”

“Can I put words in your mouth?”

Minnesota and Iowa
“The Iowa DOT bases its human life value on productivity, and when I go across the Minnesota border my life is worth 1.6 million dollars less and I don’t care.”

General commentary
“That guy has a screw somewhere, and it is not hammered in correctly.”

“It’s great we are trying to make the world a better place and what not … but we need to still walk on two feet, maybe three.”

“There was also a Lincoln Bobcat, akin to the Ford Pinto. There’s an obscure fact … You can amaze people with it at a cocktail party.”

“If you can ever buy a bridge … do it.”

“Monopolist is someone who moves around that board … you know, they don’t have Shortline Railroad anymore in the new game?”

“Left and right shoes are complimentary unless you are a one-legged person.”

“[…agency …] is very foxy. I don’t mean it in the attractive way.”

Excerpt from an exam question:
The [state] DOT wants to investigate improving a route through the Town of Sun Fish Lake. A recent crash has made improving this highway a top priority. The governor, a native of Sun Fish Lake, was deeply saddened when the high school’s “team bus” was destroyed by a tank truck carrying hog manure on the current alignment, which goes right in front of the high school.

There were no high school athletes on board the bus at the time because the crash occurred while the football team, the Fighting Sunnys, was playing a home game. The bus driver had the windows down, trying blow out some of the odor created during the last 30 years of hauling high school athletic teams.

The bus driver suffered only minor injuries and, following the crash, was quoted as saying, “That honey wagon had no business going that fast through town, but it sure got rid of the smell of sweaty socks.” 

The governor, a former second-string running back, was quoted as saying, “Regardless of how many games the Fighting Sunnys lost, the camaraderie of riding in the game bus to away games made me the man I am today. This is a tragedy! The highway must be fixed.”

The Cracker Jack design squad at the [state] DOT has come up with three alternative designs for improvements. …

Tom Maze
Professor Tom Maze, InTrans founder
Tom Maze, Reg Souleyrette, and David Plazak
Tom Maze, Reg Souleyrette, and David Plazak
Marilyn Maze holds her little brother Tom
Marilyn Maze holds her little brother Tom
Tom in high school
Tom in high school
Tom addressing an audience
Tom addressing an audience