SDI Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Larry Luttrell

The Steel Deck Institute celebrates the life and legacy of Larry Luttrell, a brilliant engineer and renaissance man whose ground-breaking research and insights into diaphragm action and composite deck redefined the industry’s approach to design methodologies and positioned the SDI as the authority on industry standards for the design, manufacture, and field usage of steel deck.

Larry passed away in June. He was 89.

Larry Luttrell was born in Russell County, Kentucky, in 1934. His father died when he was relatively young, leaving Larry to take on the responsibility of trying to keep the family farm running while also attending school. A very bright young man, Larry showed an aptitude for research and problem-solving from a young age. He graduated second in his high school class: his future wife, Fern, beat him for first place (the two youngsters had their first date at age 13, but did not reconnect until many years later).

Not long after graduating, Larry was drafted and served in the Army during the Korean War era.After the Army, he went to the University of Kentucky on the GI bill and graduated with his degree in engineering. From there he went to Cornell to do his postgraduate work and get his PhD under the tutelage of Dr. George Winter, who is considered to be the godfather of cold-formed steel design in the United States.

Larry’s first publication was from Cornell University, in 1966, on diaphragm action. This area of research was one of the great loves of Larry’s life, and his findings changed the face of the industry. Larry took a new approach to analyzing and implementing data as it pertains to the performance of steel deck roof diaphragms: rather than remaining strictly in the realm of empirical findings, Larry wanted testing to lead to analytical design. Larry was one of the first to calibrate test data versus an analytical method to justify the suitability and safety of his design method.

Larry’s doctoral thesis made its rounds through various peer groups, and he was invited to the Steel Deck Institute to present his research while it was still in progress, in the mid 1960s. From that point onward, Larry and SDI were linked, and in 1981 the first SDI Diaphragm Design manual was published, written and directed by Larry. Now, over 41 years later, SDI is about to publish the fifth edition of this industry-standard design manual, trusted by professionals world-wide.

“Larry was such a brilliant man that I think he gave credibility to the Steel Deck Institute when it was in its adolescent stage, and when we needed it,” said Larry’s longtime friend John Mattingly. “I think we’ve grown. We’ve grown now where we have credibility on our own, but we cannot forget where we came from.”

Outside of work and research, Larry’s love for design and problem-solving found expression in his many interests. Described as a renaissance man by those who knew him well, Larry was a gifted landscaper and builder who took pride in the garden oasis he designed for himself and his beloved wife, Fern. He was a pilot and had an enduring love for car and motorcycle design. He was an active member of his church and prayed grace over meals without qualm, regardless of who his dinner guests might be.

Larry’s commitment to excellence and precision shone through in all facets of his life. His decades of research and his ability to transcribe his insights into applicable methodologies were foundational in making The Steel Deck Institute the voice of authority on steel deck design and ANSI standards, and we are forever grateful for his contributions to the field.

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