Jack Lemley graduated in 1960 from the University of Idaho with a degree in architecture. He worked for a few years as an engineer for a San Francisco company before moving his family to Boise in 1977 to take a job with Morrison Knudsen. He came on at MK as the executive vice president in charge of heavy construction. He managed major projects there until 1988 when he was passed over for the position of the CEO in favor of Bill Agee. One can’t help but wonder if MK would still be around if the decision had gone the other way.
Lemley’s resignation from MK came just in time for him to land the contract to supervise the construction of the Chunnel. It was about as big a job as they get. More than 15,000 people worked on the project. It resulted in two train tunnels and a service tunnel, more than 31 miles long and as deep 380 feet below sea level.
For his work on the project, Lemley was awarded the Order of Merit and Queen Elizabeth named him a Commander of the British Empire.
After the Chunnel was complete, Lemley became the CEO of U.S. Ecology in Houston. He moved the firm’s headquarters to Boise.
Even Boiseans who are well travelled probably see another project of Lemley’s much more often than they see the Chunnel. His firm designed and constructed the Idaho Water Center at the corner of Front and Broadway. It’s the home of the University of Idaho graduate engineering programs in Boise.
Lemley had his hand in dozens of major projects from Seattle’s Interstate-90 and Interstate-5 interchange to the Trans-Panama Pipeline.
A popular figure in Great Britain because of his success with the Chunnel project, Lemley was chosen to build the venues and infrastructure for the 2012 Olympics in London. Frustrated with political wrangling, he resigned the position in 2006.
Jack Lemley was inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame in 1997 and into the Idaho Technology Council’s Hall of Fame in 2011.
Lemley’s son, Jim, is a manager of a different kind of big projects. He is a film producer best known for the Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer.