My Water Legacy: Canhams Forged a Strong Bond, Inside and Outside of WEF

September 20, 2016

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Robert (Bob) Canham Jr. will never forget the day in 1981 when he learned the results of his master’s degree oral exam.

“As soon as I heard I passed, I called my dad at work,” Bob said. “He was not an emotional guy. But I could hear the pride in his voice.”

Father and son share a drive to improve the water sector

Robert Canham Sr. worked at the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) from 1957 through 1986, serving many roles including executive director. WEF Archives photo.

Robert Canham Sr. worked at the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) from 1957 through 1986, serving in many roles including executive director. WEF Archives photo.

At the time, Bob’s father, Robert Canham Sr., was executive director of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), and he had good reason to be proud: his only son had just earned a master’s in environmental engineering from Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Va.). Robert had received the same degree from Purdue (West Lafayette, Ind.) years earlier. Both father and son also held bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering.

“It was all absolutely coincidental,” Bob said. “I was under no pressure whatsoever.” Applying for WEF membership also was coincidental, he said.

“I didn’t join WEF just because of my dad,” Bob said. “I joined because WEF was the premier organization for wastewater professionals. I joined because of the quality of its literature and conferences.”

Robert, WEF executive director, shakes the hand of Ernie Gloyna, WEF president from 1983 to 1984 during a WEF event in New Orleans during 1984. WEF Archives photo.

Robert, WEF executive director, shakes the hand of Ernie Gloyna, WEF president from 1983 to 1984 during a 1984 WEF event in New Orleans. WEF Archives photo.

Regardless of the reason, there is no denying that this father and son shared a special bond, and a lifelong desire to learn and advance their profession.

Robert started working for WEF in 1957 after a short career in environmental engineering. He served in many roles during his 29-year-span, including editor of WEF’s journal, Water Environment Research, before taking his seat in the executive’s chair. He worked to increase WEF’s stature as an informational resource for the water and wastewater sectors, Bob said.

Son follows in his father’s footsteps

In 1982, Robert (Bob) Canham Jr. (right) received the Philip F. Morgan Medal for his master’s thesis. Four generations of water education stand together. Bob stands with, from left, Abel Wolman, a former professor of sanitary engineering at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore); Gloyna, Wolman’s former student and Dean Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin; and Clifford Randall, Gloyna’s former student, Bob’s teacher, and professor at Virginia Polytechnic University (Blacksburg). WEF Archives photo.

In 1982, Robert (Bob) Canham Jr. (right) received the Philip F. Morgan Medal for his master’s thesis. Four generations of water education stand together. Bob stands with, from left, Abel Wolman, a former professor of sanitary engineering at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore); Gloyna, Wolman’s former student and Dean Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin; and Clifford Randall, Gloyna’s former student, Bob’s teacher, and professor at Virginia Polytechnic University (Blacksburg). WEF Archives photo.

After entering the water sector, Bob earned his paycheck designing water and wastewater infrastructure for a consulting engineering firm before moving to the municipal side of the business. During his 35-year career, he held leadership roles at Prince William County Service Authority (Woodbridge, Va.), Loudoun Water (Ashburn, Va.), and today, the Upper Occoquan Service Authority (Centreville, Va.).

During that time, he has attended more than two dozen WEFTEC conferences. Perhaps the most memorable was when Bob flew to Los Angeles to surprise Robert at his retirement ceremony. He was not planning to attend, but could not refuse when he learned about the ceremony. “My dad was my best friend,” Bob said.

Robert speaks at a WEF, then known as the Water Pollution Control Federation event in Washington, D.C. WEF Archives photo.

Robert speaks at a WEF, then known as the Water Pollution Control Federation, event in Washington, D.C. WEF Archives photo.

Robert Sr. retired from WEF in October 1986, and died just 2 years later. WEF has since established the WEF Canham Graduate Studies Scholarship in his honor.

In the years since, Bob has carried his father’s torch. A WEF fixture on both the national and state level, he has chaired almost every Virginia Water Environment Association committee and contributed significantly to WEF’s body of research, he said.

Bob works as deputy director of Treatment Process at the Upper Occoquan Service Authority in Centreville, Va. Photo courtesy of the Upper Occoquan Service Authority.

Bob works as deputy director of Treatment Process at the Upper Occoquan Service Authority in Centreville, Va. Photo courtesy of the Upper Occoquan Service Authority.

Passing along the value of WEF to the next generation

“The great value of WEF membership is that it allows you to stay up with emerging technologies,” Bob said. “They’re always studying the next new thing.”

While Bob hasn’t attended WEFTEC since 2012, he always includes it in his training budget. “At this stage of my career, I think it’s better to send younger staff members,” he said. “It has given me so much. Now it’s their turn.”

 

— Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights

WEF Highlights Presents My Water Legacy Families

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) is bringing attention to the value of membership and tradition of working in the water sector.

The #MyWaterLegacy social media campaign and WEF Highlights articles feature the accomplishments and contributions of members who have passed down the tradition of actively participating in WEF and working in the water sector. The WEF Legacy Family will appear in an ongoing WEF Highlights series. Read the series by searching for the keyword MyWaterLegacy.

Know of a family with multiple generations of WEF members and water sector professionals? Contact Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, at jfulcher@wef.org.

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