David Knowles was a beloved husband for over sixty years, loving father and proud “Papa”, retired Professor of Civil Engineering, expert fly tyer and fly fisherman, and friend to all he met on the river. Surrounded by family, David departed this life on July 3, 2023.
David was born March 7, 1938, in Chehalis, Washington, to Walter and Evelyn Knowles. With his father as a minister, David’s childhood included moves to Montana, Texas, and Georgia. As a child, David quickly grew to love the outdoors – particularly camping and fishing the Chattooga River in north Georgia. It was negotiating the rocks and wading the swift Chattooga that helped develop the toughness that would serve him well in athletics, excelling in football, basketball, and track at Stephens County High School.
It was in Toccoa, GA where David met Nan Odom. It’s unknown if David initially knew that Nan’s level of intellect could rival his own..as it’s more likely he simply knew she was the most beautiful girl in Georgia, and her mother was a fantastic cook.
David attended Georgia Tech and earned a BS and MS in Civil Engineering. He was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. David and Nan were married September 9, 1962. They moved to Austin, TX where David obtained his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas. Upon graduation, David accepted a position at Texas A&M University where he taught for nine years.
In 1976, David and Nan moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where David developed a new land surveying program for the University of Arkansas. He retired from the U of A in 2001 after a distinguished career and was awarded Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering. He was a life member of the Arkansas Society of Professional Surveyors, serving as past President, and as long-time editor of their award-winning publication “HI’s and PI’s”. He was also a past recipient of the Society’s “Surveyor of the Year.” David served for eight years on the Arkansas State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. David served on the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Land Surveyors (NCEES) for over 15 years. He is co-author of “Legal Principles of Boundary Location for Arkansas”, “The U.S. Public Land Survey System of Arkansas”, and the “Celestial Observation Handbook and Ephemeris”. He is also co-developer of “ASTRO” celestial observation products. David was honored by the National Geodetic Survey with a survey monument named after him and placed on Mount Magazine. Except for travel to participate in work seminars, David never missed a day of class in his thirty-four year teaching career.
While his professional career and contributions are certainly worthy of a lifetime achievement award, David’s accomplishments alone simply don’t reflect the man we have all come to know and love. His other passions in life were tying flies, fly fishing, and helping others be successful on the water.
David developed new fly patterns, such as the “Y2K Bug”, which helped people catch more and bigger fish all across the country. When folks on the river were not catching fish, leave it to David to strike up a conversation and offer a few of his flies and words of encouragement.
David spent most of his time fishing in Arkansas, Georgia, and Montana. He tied for fly shops across the country as well. David was a generous supporter of Trout Unlimited and donated more rods and flies than most fly fishermen ever own. David was honored at the Arkansas Chapter of Trout Unlimited with the Ray Smith Award given to those who demonstrate outstanding leadership, volunteerism, and stewardship to conserve, protect, and restore cold water fisheries. In addition, Trout Unlimited petitioned the Corps of Engineers and Arkansas Game and Fish to name an access point after him on the White River.
David spent thirty-five summers fishing in Montana, which was a very special place for him. He enjoyed visiting unique places in the Big Sky State and making new friends wherever he visited. His early trips would include teaching a short course in Surveying at a Geological Camp at the University of Montana Western, which gave him an excuse to be in Montana. David would soon become an expert on Montana water rights, which obviously allowed him to better understand his potential fishing access along rivers. Until two years ago, he never stayed in a hotel but preferred the flexibility of sleeping in a tent. Those who were blessed to have fished with him, know that he could wade waters that most men would never try – probably a strong determination to fish a specific hole along with his very strong legs.
He really enjoyed the diversity of the waters around Dillon, Montana. He fished the Beaverhead, Poindexter Slough, and the Big Hole. He fished the beautiful Madison River and loved to camp at Wade Lake. Usually at the end of his trips, he would fish the Missouri River. The fish on the Missouri tend to be larger, so he was careful not to spoil himself with too much of a good thing on the front end of his annual trip.
David was well educated on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The rivers in Southwest Montana combine to form the Missouri River. It was fascinating to hear an expert in Surveying discuss the proficiency for which Lewis and Clark mapped the navigable waters they encountered on the Expedition. The landmarks and hardships of the Expedition were always evident, and David thought the execution and completion of the Expedition to be one the greatest feats for our country.
God gave David a unique combination of intellect, a passion for fishing, a heart of giving, great talent as a teacher, tremendous patience, and complete humility. David has always felt a responsibility and obligation to give back. We are all very lucky and blessed in that regard. He has instilled the love of fly fishing in his kids and grandchildren. His family and friends are sure to honor his legacy. May you fish in peace for eternity, David.
David is survived by his wife Nan, son John (Jennifer) Knowles, daughter Lisa (Kipp) Hearne, and daughter Heather (Kelly) Robason; grandchildren Grant Hearne, Claire Knowles, Eliza Hearne, John David Knowles, and George Robason; sister Mary Villaume, brother Stephen Knowles, loving nieces, and many other family and friends.
A Celebration of Life will be held at 11:00 am, Friday, July 7th at Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you consider donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.