In Memoriam - Professor Bill Howard and Professor Kenneth Topping

 In Fall of 2020, we lost Professor Emeritus and former Department Head, Bill Howard. You can read the obituary below to learn about Bill’s wonderful life and legacy. Bill’s wife, Professor Zeljka Howard, has established a scholarship in his name. You can donate here:       

In Memoriam - Professor William "Bill" Howard

William (Bill) Howard, 88, Cal Poly Professor Emeritus passed away on August 29th, 2020 surrounded by family and friends at his home in San Luis Obispo. Bill was a witty, intellectually inquisitive, funny man who was never short on jokes and observations in his characteristically curmudgeonly outlook of the world. He was also a caring father, husband, grandfather and educator who genuinely relished the opportunity to broaden the horizons of university students throughout his entire career. Upon graduating from high school in his hometown of Pink Hill, North Carolina, Bill joined the Air Force and served his country stateside during the Korean War. After serving 4 years in the military Bill went on to graduate from the University of Denver with a bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy and a master’s degree in Geography, prior to receiving his PhD from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in Geography and Urban Planning.

After returning to the United States from Scotland he followed his calling in life, which was to be an educator. He started his teaching career during his graduate studies at the University of Denver and the University of Edinburgh, and continued rising in academic ranks with positions at the University of Denver, the University of Colorado Denver, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and lastly California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where he was hired to be the first permanent full-time Head of the City and Regional Planning Department in 1980. Bill strongly believed that both educators and students should be actively involved in their chosen profession. To that end he was continuously engaged in local and national planning issues through consulting with private and public planning agencies and serving on various advisory boards.  Bill used his endless energy to enrich students’ planning education and preparedness for the “real world” by finding ways in which they can work with communities and assist them in their planning efforts. To the end Bill was passionate about city planning and helping communities become more holistic in their thinking about the ways that they could be better for the people living within them. He used his sabbatical from Cal Poly to do just that for the City of East Palo Alto, CA serving as the Community Development Director for two years. His post retirement years were dedicated to seeking innovative ideas and projects addressing housing issues. He was a ferocious reader and at any given time could have two or three books going at the same time. Ironically, he was fond of Mark Twain’s timeless expression … “I have never let schooling interfere with my education.”

Bill is survived by his loving and devoted wife Zeljka, his children Wade Howard (Brenda) of Newbury Park, CA and Lori Howard (Josh) of Westminster, CO, his stepchildren Amy Bilbija (Jeff) of Cambria, CA and Dushan Bilbija (Robin) of Novato, CA, his grandson Connor, and his step granddaughters Katherine, Ella, Jelena, and Ana, two sisters Bette Smith (Albert) of Emerald Isle, NC, and Nancy Gladson of Kinston, NC, and a brother Cecil Howard (Ruth) of Panama Beach, FL. He will forever be in our hearts for the laughter, love and joy that he brought to our lives as well as all the students who went on to touch the world with the ideas that they learned from Bill Howard.

A celebration of life will be held at a future time, when the world regains some sense of normalcy. In honor of Bill’s legacy, a scholarship in his name has been established at Cal Poly. This scholarship supports graduate students in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Contributions can be made by online ( or by sending a check to: City and Regional Planning, 1 Grand Avenue, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0283. If sending a check, please reference the “William Howard Scholarship” in the memo line.


In Memoriam - Professor Kenneth "Ken" Topping

In Spring of 2021, we lost Professor Emeritus Kenneth Topping. You can read the obituary below to learn about Ken’s wonderful life and legacy.

Kenneth Clarke Topping passed away peacefully on March 5, 2021 at the age of 85 from complications of Parkinson’s disease at his residence at San Clemente Villas by the Sea, San Clemente, California. He is survived by his wife, Phyllis Topping, his sons, David and Bruce Topping, David’s wife Jody, grandchildren Ryan Topping and Erika Hoffman, great-grandchildren Anderson and Paige Topping, nephews Richard Fridell and Bayete Henderson, niece Nancy Acosta, and many others in their respective extended families.

Born on April 28, 1935 in Kobe, Japan to Willard and Evelyn Topping (American Baptist missionaries), Ken had two siblings, Barbara Fridell, and Henry Topping (died in infancy). Ken spent the first five years of his life in Himeji, Japan. Just before World War II broke out, his family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, then to Boulder, CO for several years, eventually returning to post-war Japan where Ken attended Yokohama American High School. He moved to Redlands, CA to attend the University of Redlands, where he majored in Sociology, performed in the Drama Trio, and met the love of his life, Phyllis Brewer. Shortly after graduation in 1956, they married in Redlands and began their wonderful 64-year collaboration.

Ken and Phyl spent their first year together at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where Ken pursued post-baccalaureate studies. They then returned to California, settling in Covina, where Phyl’s parents and sister resided. In the first three years of their marriage, they were blessed with their two sons, and Ken diverted from his intended career as a marriage counselor and worked for LA County in downtown Los Angeles as a regional planner from 1957 to 1973. He left his position at LA County to become the Director of Planning for San Bernardino County and then the Deputy Administrator for Environmental Public Works, while living once again in Redlands. Ken was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley in 1986 as Director of City Planning for Los Angeles, where he had an influential role in projects that included the Getty Museum, Hollywood Community Plan, routing for the Metro Red Line subway to Universal City, and the city’s first zoning update using GIS (geographic information systems).

Later in his career, Ken served as General Manager for the Cambria Community Services District, Visiting Professor at the Disaster Prevention Research Institute of Kyoto University in Japan, and lecturer in City and Regional Planning at California Polytechnic State, San Luis Obispo. His work also included numerous consulting, research, and advisory roles, along with serving on commissions, including the Planning Commission for San Luis Obispo County. He is recognized internationally for his work on earthquake and other disaster resiliency issues including advisory work after Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and the Kobe earthquake. He authored and coordinated many significant articles, studies, and books.
Ken had a vision for the role of planning in guiding communities to solve environmental and hazard problems and had unique skills for implementing this vision. His consistent voice, persistent persuasion, application of emotional intelligence, ability to build bridges across agencies and disciplines, and vision of safer cities through applications of environmental and climate science led to Ken’s career being highlighted in a session entitled “At the Forefront: Work of a Resilience Planning Pioneer” at the 2019 conference of the California chapter of the American Planning Association in what could be considered a well-deserved lifetime achievement award.

Ken’s non-vocational interests included sailing, hiking & camping, walking, and both making and enjoying different types of music. A self-taught guitarist, he shared his life-long love of music passionately with his family, including forming a family folk music group, leading to both his sons pursuing successful careers in music teaching and performance. His gentle nature, compassion for others, dedication to his profession, perseverance, and intelligence are just some of the many wonderful attributes that will live on in the memories of his family, colleagues, and friends all over the world.

In lieu of making donations to a specific charity in memory of Kenneth Topping, the family asks only that people make conscious efforts to be respectful, caring, and loving of one another and the environment, attributes exemplified by his life in helping to create a more peaceful and sustainable world for future generations. A celebration of Ken’s life will be held at a time and place to be determined by the family.

Related Content

Our MCRP Program

Video for MCRP Program

MCRP Program Video

Support Us


Consider a gift