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W F (Bill) Williams

Members will be very sorry to learn of the death, on 14 February 2006, of Dr W F (Bill) Williams, Life Fellow and former Director of Combined Studies in the Faculty of Science.

Born on Merseyside in 1921, Bill Williams was a pupil at Wallasey Grammar School before entering the University of Liverpool in 1940, to read physics. War interrupted his studies and from 1942 to 1946 he worked on radar as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Returning to Liverpool after the war, he graduated with First Class Honours in 1947. He began research work in nuclear physics with Sir James Chadwick but in 1949 moved to the South-East to take the first of a number of senior appointments over the next seventeen years in colleges in the London area, latterly as Head of the Department of Physics at West Ham College of Technology. In the course of little more than three years at West Ham, he transformed the departments fortunes, boosting the intake of students on one degree programme alone from six to 175 students. During the early 1950s, Bill Williams was himself registered for a part-time PhD degree at University College London; he was awarded his doctorate in 1955.

Bill Williams came to Leeds in September 1966, as the Universitys second Director of Combined Studies in the Faculty of Science, succeeding Professor Fred Holliman. During his period in post, two-subject degree schemes in Science and Applied Science developed considerably to become one of the major and distinctive features of the University. Bill Williams was an indefatigable champion of his students, firm, fair and forthright in protecting their interests. Over the years, he acted as counsellor and friend to some 2,500 students, registered on more than sixty schemes of study. The organisation of such a complex, interlocking network of programmes, requiring close liaison with many other departments including those outside Science, allowed full rein to his talents as an exceedingly capable administrator.

Throughout his career, Bill Williams retained and pursued a scholarly interest in physics and science generally. Following the award of his PhD, he continued to be associated with UCL through involvement in a research programme concerning the properties of positronium; he played a valuable part in this work both personally and in his supervision of research students. He became increasingly interested in and fascinated by the relationship between science and society and, as a corollary of this, the need to broaden and supplement traditional specialised first degree courses in the sciences. He published and lectured widely in this area, receiving invitations to visit countries including Belgium, Canada, Germany, Holland, Japan and the United States. He was an articulate member of the Pugwash organisation and of several committees of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1973, he was granted secondment for two years, later extended for a third year, to serve as Co-ordinator and editor-in-chief of the Nuffield Foundations Science in a Social Context Project. He resumed this role in 1980. Closer to home, he was for many years an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Physics and also in the Division of the History and Philosophy of Science in the Department of Philosophy.

Bill Williams was widely known within the University for many other activities apart from those associated with his post. He was a long-serving member of the Senate, eloquent in his advocacy of what he saw as the interests of the university community as a whole. He served on many committees, as Chairman and Secretary of the Senior Common Room Club and as Chairman of Weetwood Hall Council. From 1968 and into retirement, he represented the University on the Joint Matriculation Board, for much of the time as the Boards highly-successful Treasurer.

Bill Williams retired from the University in September 1983. In an appreciation written at the time, Philip Thody observed that:

If the sign of the University man is to use his own discipline to help other people to understand society and themselves, then Leeds is indeed fortunate to have tempted Bill Williams to come and occupy so central a position in so many of the activities which make up university life.

In recognition of his diverse and distinctive contributions to the life of the institution over many years, Bill Williams was made a Life Fellow of the University on his retirement. In that capacity, he attended meetings of the Court with great regularity, as robust and spirited as ever in the defence of the academic values he cherished. He also maintained his scholarly interests; he was the William Weiss Fellow in Engineering at Pennsylvania State University from 1992 to 1993 and was the general editor of the Encyclopaedia of Pseudoscience, published in 2000.

Bill Williams is survived by his wife, Joyce, and son, Ian.