Farewell Tribute to Alphonse J. Dell’Isola

By Stephen Kirk – Dean, College of Fellows

We just lost one of our giants in Value Engineering, Alphonse Dell’Isola, FSAVE. A legend known as the Godfather of VE in construction, Al was my mentor, boss, co-author, and most importantly my friend for over 40 years. He passed away peacefully at 11:30 pm on April 21, 2020.

Al taught thousands around the world on VE applied to the construction industry and was the first to publish a book on the subject. He received accolades from Larry Miles for his pioneering VE work. Al enjoyed telling stories, Italian food, and loved his family so much.

Al’s bio said he pioneered the use of value methods in the construction industry. He was a specialist in VE, life cycle cost analysis, cost control, and construction management. Al supervised these types of services on over 500 projects and had over 50 years of experience working on VE studies. He graduated from MIT with a degree in civil engineering.

Al was honored with the Distinguished Service and Fellow Awards from SAVE International. He received a citation as Man of the Year (1967) from the Engineering News-Record for outstanding achievement in VE. In addition, Al conducted over 300 briefings and speeches to over 50,000 professionals in the above areas, both nationally and internationally. He was the author of the textbooks, Value Engineering in the Construction Industry (3 editions) and was co-author of the text, Life Cycle Costing for Facilities, published with R.S. Means and myself in 2003.

I spoke to Al’s wife, Rosie – they had just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. She went to his care facility in Atlanta every day to visit him due to his Alzheimer medical condition. Rosie said Al will be cremated and later buried at Arlington National cemetery. He was a Navy officer in the 1950’s and met Rosie while on duty in Guam. Al leaves five children – Mark David, Paul, Elizabeth and Marie.

There are so many memories. I first met Al while attending my first SAVE conference in Detroit in 1977. I gave a paper on life cycle costing and he came up to me and introduced himself. I met Rosie and we had dinner together. Al offered me a job and made an offer I couldn’t refuse. He was so passionate about VE.

Once I settled in, Al asked if I would co-author a book on life cycle costing. We would spend Sundays at his house working on our book. Al’s kids would surround him, competing for his attention. His family loved him so much. Al was a father figure to me. He not only taught me VE but gave lessons on being compassionate to others.

Al liked to get to the airport just a few minutes before takeoff. It was a race we always won. Once on board, he immediately took a power nap. On the other end of the flight, Al was ready to tackle the project at hand. He was so knowledgeable and challenged everyone in the workshop.

I was fortunate to spend eight years with Al in his Washington, DC office of the Smith Hinchman & Grylls (SmithGroup today). He loved to teach the Value Methodology and was so inspiring to his students. Al enjoyed travel and those Italian dinners at restaurants, especially in New York City. He was present in NYC conducting a VE study when the first bombing of the World Trade Center occurred. Al worked 24/7 for months to help get it back in operation.

What a great experience. Thank you, Al, and rest in peace!

We all have fond memories of Al. Following are those sent to me from the College of Fellows…

I met Al in the fall of 1967 when I was a cost estimator with the Chesapeake Division of NAVFAC in Washington, DC and he was the head Value Engineer for NAVFAC Headquarters. He invited me to attend my first meeting of the SAVE National Capital chapter that fall in a hotel ballroom North up Connecticut Avenue in DC near the national zoo. With Al’s support, I joined SAVE and became the Navy’s District Value Engineer moving on from there to take my first 80-hour VE workshop at Patuxent River and then begin a new job as Deputy Director of VE for NAVAIR in the summer of 1970. Then, in the fall of 1971, I got the job as Director of VE for GSA’s Public Buildings Service (PBS). Al introduced me to Larry Miles and got him to come to GSA for me and give the first VE lecture to the headquarters staff of PBS which made me a hero in the eyes of Arthur Sampson, Commissioner of PBS. Then in December 1984, I left GSA and was hired by Al for his office at Smith, Hinchman & Grylls (now the Smith Group) in Washington, DC. Friends forever, we co-authored a book, Project Budgeting for Buildings, in 1991. As you can see, Al truly mentored and guided me for a quarter of a century, and I am so grateful and miss him so much.

~ Don Parker

It is not possible to get used to bad news. Unfortunately, I did not know Al at all. However, I have heard about his legendary reputation. His memory will always be here with us.

Let me express my sincere condolences to his family.

~ Istvan Tarjani

I did not know Al well, having only worked with him on a couple of occasions in New York; however, from our years of encounters in SAVE, I remember him to be a unique individual, with all of those interesting characteristics that create a “character” in our memories. He could be irascible at times, but also a very friendly man, and stood steadfastly in support of the Value Methodology profession over the decades. He mentored my mentor, Larry Zimmerman, so I would not be in this field that has so supported me and stimulated me for the last 35+ years if Al had not supported the profession as he did. I am sad to see him leave us but am confident that his spirit is with the positive energy in our universe. Farewell Al, we will miss you.

~ Don Stafford

Very sad news. I did not know Al well, but of course I knew of his legendary reputation. Happy to hear he and Rosie had 65 years together. That’s awesome!

~ Ginger Adams

I met Al but didn’t know him. Seemed he and Jerry Kaufman, who was my mentor, didn’t see eye to eye. Both are tremendous people who had a lot of drive. I imagine they will become good friends now. Please share my condolences.

~ Joe Otero

How sad to lose someone so special in the value community. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t have a look at this book at one point. It was published many times, if I am not mistaken. He wrote the bible of VE in the construction industry. I will be grateful to him for that, forever. Thanks Mr. Dell’Isola. Sincere condolences to the family.

~ Lucie Parrot

Bill Kelly introduced me to Al in 1990 at our VE conference in Kansas City, and told me to buy his book. Bill told Al I was one of the best and youngest construction engineering managers in the business and had just accepted a full-time position in Value Engineering. Al grabbed my book, signed it and said “Enjoy all your memories in construction management, they will serve you well in this next chapter. You will triple those memories in Value Engineering and expand your experience ten-fold.” I told Al I had some reservations and my father was anxious about my decision. Al shook my hand and said “Never look back, always look forward and remember to add value to all you meet, and you will never regret becoming a Value Man.” Well he planted the seed, and he was right! God Speed to the entire Dell’Isola family and dear friends.

~ Richard Harrington

We have just been informed of the passing of Mr. Al Dell’Isola, and would like to extend our heartfelt sympathy to all the Dell’Isola family in the midst of deep sorrow. Al was one of the pioneers of Value Engineering in Construction. SJVE had a chance to invite him and hold a two-day seminar on VE in Construction in November 1989. Two years after, Japanese translation of his book Value Engineering Practical Applications was published and many Japanese Value practitioners in the construction industry had opportunities to learn a lot from it. We sincerely appreciate his long-term dedication in the Value profession which will be missed by everyone who know him. May his soul rest in peace.

~ Society of Japanese Value Engineering: Tamotsu Saito, President; Akio Miyamoto, Director and Secretary General; Satoko Uesugi, Director, Overseas Affairs

I only knew Al by reputation. Please accept my condolences for the loss of such a long-time friend.

~ Martyn Phillips

Sorry to hear about Al. May his soul rest in heaven. Sincere condolences to his family.

~ Jihad Usta

Thank you for sharing the sad news. Although I did not know him personally, I knew about his contribution to the VA/VE world. Beside this business success, he also had a huge personal success with reaching this high age and having such a long marriage and big family. Greetings from Germany.

~ Marc Pauwels

Very sad to hear about the passing of Al Dell’ Isola. I learned Value Engineering from him. I remember his style, enjoyable teaching and stories that made everyone love VE. He, along with Stephen Kirk and Don Parker, started VE at General Directorate of Military Works (GDMW) at the Saudi Ministry of Defense (MODA). Then, it was spread to the rest of Saudi Arabia then the Gulf countries, and then to the rest of Arab World and Middle East. My best condolences to his family, to SAVE and the many thousands of people he taught.

~ Abdulaziz Al-Yousefi

I also did not know Al personally, but am well aware of the pioneer work he did in the area of construction and his authorship in the VM business. I am so excited he was married 65 years and his wife went to visit him every day. Those things are rare today, so this is a great success story of how life was designed to be lived. We started too late to get 65 years of marriage in! Thanks for sharing!

~ Jim Bolton

The first person I met at my first SAVE conference in 1983 was Al and the warm welcome this VE god gave to a 31 year old beginner was never forgotten. It certainly convinced me I was on the right career path and has served as a role model for how I treat beginners I’ve met along the way. The world surely has lost some real value.

~ Scot McClintock

I met Al so many years ago that I hate to think I too have been around our wonderful society and comraderies among our fellow professionals for all this time. I had the opportunity to discuss the NAVFAC’s VE program with Al as I was “coming-up-the-ranks” in the VE world resulting in my assignment as the Assistant Acquisition Officer (civilian) for the design/construction of Kings Bay Submarine Base in St. Mary, GA. I wrote to Mike Sr. and Mike, Jr. expressing my condolences to their brother/uncle. In my memo to them, I stated how I always enjoyed Al’s good humor, tidbits of wisdom and advise, and long conversations. He will surely be missed.

~ Luis Venegas

My wife and I were terribly saddened to learn of Al’s passing. I am taking the liberty to include Anne in the response as she probably knew Al almost as well as I did for not only did we spend a great deal of our leisure time with Al during our annual visits to the USA between1990 and 2007. And who can forget his annual evening soirée. Also, when I invited Al out to conduct a joint Mod 1 and his Construction VE Sessions we were honoured to have him stay with us for the duration of his visit to Australia. I might add we spent many a night with Al and Anne discussing their Italian back grounds while Al and I sampled my 15 year old Australian Reds. On a number of occasions Al tried to get me started on my VE and Innovation Handbooks. Al was truly the Grandfather of VE in Construction and he will be deeply missed by all those he trained, and who knew him as a friend and colleague, Anne and I most certainly will. Personally, I continually referred to his publications, of which I am privileged to have my signed copies. How do you replace someone like Al Dell’Isola, FSAVE? You do not, simply because you cannot. Anne and I send our most sincere condolences to Rosie and his family, in fact and indeed Anne is already offering up prayers for him. Rest in Peace dear friend and may you always walk in the shadow of the Lord.

~ Anne & Donald Hannan

Al Dell‘Isola’s generosity. Directly I met him in Detroit’s inner city he said “All their way from India? Look at the dedication! OK, come to the Pontchartrain this evening, let us start with a dinner!” I was too stunned to warn him that I was a Vegan. Poor Al felt miserable when I joined him at dinner. It was a seafood restaurant. The waiter showed me heaps of lobsters in the tank, cajoled saying it was not meat. Al’s workshop attendees teased me “…ha, that’s why there is a food problem in India!” One attendee was more creative than the rest; he just went outside and collected some good veg stuff from a wagon selling corn, coffee, ice creams, chip, French fries even popcorn. Al felt elated seeing my blooming smile and expression. I got more to eat than the others. Some even robbed from my pack. They compensated by more ice creams, peaches. After the SAVE conference in Detroit, I continued to Washington, DC where Don Parker gave me free attendance at a GSA 40 hour seminar taught by Al. My sincere tribute and affection for The Giant in VA/VA as he rightly has called Al.

~ S.S. Venkataramanan

As I recall from my service on the SAVE Certification Board, Al Dell’Isola applied for a Module I workshop that consisted of 20 hours of eLearning instruction followed by 20 hours of “live project” activity. This was in the early days of eLearning for VE and SAVE. So, there was some skepticism about the effectiveness of the instruction. However, Al demonstrated that his eLearning met intent of the Mod I instruction. There was also some concern about the students getting the full 20 hours of live project work. But, the members of the Certification Board who know Al and assured that “they’ll get every bit of the 20 hours for Al”. His Module I was approved and many new VM practitioners were trained and certified. Al was ahead of his time, even 20 years ago. Our profession will sorely miss Al’s vision and love for VM.

~ Drew Algase

Alphonse J. Dell’Isola was one of the wildest people I’ve ever known. He was “wicked” smart, very funny, and fearless. In the early ‘80s his Smith, Hinchman & Grylls office offered VE and CM and comprised a crew of young folks, e.g., Mike Dell’Isola, Steve Kirk, Larry Zimmerman, Deke Smith, and me. The “elders” were Al, Bernie Stainton, Nancy Crist, and Bob Malcolm. We all worked so hard and had so much fun. Two quick stories:

VE Legislation – At one point, Al hired a consultant to see what could be done to generate enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for value engineering. When I heard about this, I ran into Al’s office and said “Hey, what about me? I used to work up there!” He immediately said “Get to it!” I loved that he trusted a young woman to figure this out for him. I quickly found that another woman, Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro (NY) was our lynchpin. I was able to get an appointment with her and ran back to the Hill the next day with Al and Larry Zimmerman and our wonderful stories of VE successes in New York City. She quickly understood the process, saw the benefits to her own City, and with her legislative aide and us created an amendment to the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments to the Clean Water Bill, which required the US/EPA to perform VE on projects funded with federal dollars and costing greater than $10 million. Ever the storyteller, Al was critical to getting buy-in from the Congresswoman for this first VE legislation.

Family – We would regularly have one of Al’s many children with us in the office, just stopping by or heading out to lunch with Dad. We were all lucky to see the artwork his talented son, Mark, created. I will never forget the triptych Mark painted for his parents. It was like a Russian or Greek icon and was magnificent. Al told me it hung in Al’s and Rosie’s bedroom forever. Larry Zimmerman and I left to create our firm at the end of a February. That December, I had a call from Al to ask if we were in our office. He was coming by and bringing his kid with him! Well, it was Mark, who had by then moved to Palau hundreds of miles south of Guam. Mark needed to make some money to head back around the globe so he could continue painting his masterpieces. Well, they arrived with rolled-up canvases, pieces of wood, and a toolbox. Talk about hilarious! We had Mark’s paintings strewn all over our floors. We bought several and Mark made the frames right then and there as Al, Larry, and I sat by, had a scotch, and laughed our heads off.

Life is good when you’ve got a great boss who becomes a lifelong friend. I will never forget his generosity, confidence, and ability to treat the rest of us with respect – all through the lens of humor. Way to go, AJD!

~ Mary Ann Lewis

Well, I did know Al Dell’Isola! I would like to share a few words of Alphonse, the person. A gregarious person who came from humble beginnings and achieved success. Al loved people and his family (Rosie and the kids) and his colleagues (mostly young professionals) who he also considered family. His friendships endured! Long after directly working with Al, he still considered us his kids (colleagues) and was always encouraging in our endeavors. He was positive and supportive. Often, I thought Al was envious of so many he mentored having their own businesses. He was generous, often to a fault and spoke well of all he met, even his staunch competitors. For the two years I worked at SH&G, Al brought together a group of young professionals (and Bernie Stainton) and fostered our innovations and creativity. He was a good integrator, and facilitator of innovation be it in building design or construction. Perhaps it was his ability to work with teams and integrate full services of VE, project planners, land planners, estimators, constructability and owner operations input that paved the way for his success. Combining love of people and desire to work with teams, Value Engineering was a perfect fit. Al’s group was an incubator for innovation! He let high achievers develop LCC, Energy Models, cost systems, and new project delivery applications. He promoted an atmosphere for progressive change. Many of you may not know that Al was also a big supporter of construction management in its infancy. The Smith Group, who Al worked for, also had a relationship with McKee Burger Mansuedo from Boston. They were one of the earliest CM firms. Al helped integrate VE, estimating, and Life Cycle approaches to their Owners’ projects. It was the combined emphasis in VE and CM that led Mary Ann Lewis and me to eventually have firms with expertise in these two key areas. We learned a lot about business acumen, working with large firms, and business relationships with large clients from Al. Al had a network of colleagues from his days in the Navy and from his many years of work. He was very complementary of his fellow professionals and always spoke highly of those he met. It was nice to work with a highly ethical person. I think Al was proudest of those he mentored and their successes, his family (Rosie and kids), and his friends. He seldom showed jealousy and was confident in his abilities – a very supportive person in all endeavors. Yes, I too heard many of the stories of his childhood, his career, and his life. He was a dedicated family man with exceptional abilities of working with people. Rest in Peace Al, you have left your mark!

~ Larry Zimmerman

I met Al in the middle of the 80’s when he was working with U.S. Corp of Engineers at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I was at that time The General Director of Military Works, Ministry of Defense and The Liaison Officer of TAA between Saudi Arabia and The Government of USA. I become a friend to Al instantly after he convinced me to establish a VE division in GDMW which I did. I attended a VE Workshop at Los Angeles in 1975, while I was doing my graduate study at University of Washington at Seattle, WA. Al was of high caliber he believed in VE and invested his career in VE so it is not a strange to call him The God Father of VE. I owe him my VE knowledge and he is the one who spread VE in Saudi Arabia through the VE Division in GDMW. He was leading a team of Experts with Dr. Steve Kirk and Don Parker. The loss of Al is a great loss not just for his family and friends but to SAVE and to profession of Engineering. I really felt so bad by hearing the news of his passing away. My great condolences to his family and to all his friends.

~ Abdulaziz Alotaishan