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Emeritus Professor Alan Ward, CBE

Alan Ward

Many members will be aware that, sadly, Emeritus Professor Alan Ward, CBE, former Professor and Head of the Procter Department of Food and Leather Science, died on 3 October 2007.

Professor Ward was born in April 1914. A pupil at Queen Elizabeths Grammar School in Wimborne, Dorset, he won an Open Exhibition in 1932 to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read Natural Sciences (Physics) and took a First in both parts of the Tripos. Graduating in 1935, he remained at Cambridge to undertake research on the viscosity of fluids and to further his studies in mathematics and mathematical physics. In 1937, he was appointed as a lecturer at the North Staffordshire Technical College. Politically active during the 1930s, he and his wife were also extensively involved at this time in helping refugees from continental Europe. With the outbreak of the Second World War, he was called up for service as a Scientific Officer in the Ministry of Supply. There, he was responsible for setting up and directing a research group studying the physical properties and structure of propellants. His work in this area was highly successful and original and he made significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge of the deformation of plastics under stress. After the war, he put his research expertise to good use in his appointment as Senior (later Principal) Scientific Officer with the Building Research Station, where he was employed from 1946 to 1949. In an interesting application of his ideas, his work on the flow of plastic solids was taken up by the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Max Perutz and others at Cambridge in their studies of glacier flow.

Elected a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 1949, Professor Ward became the first Director of the British Gelatine and Glue Research Association in the same year. He oversaw the establishment and equipping of the Associations laboratories and assembled a team of bright young scientists, ensuring that within the space of a few years the Association was a well-respected research centre.

When he was appointed Professor and Head of the then Department of Leather Industries at Leeds in 1959, circumstances conspired to ensure that Professor Ward was soon confronted with the need to review the Departments whole future development; uncertainties within the leather industry placed a large question mark over its prospects. Professor Ward proved equal to the challenge. His most enduring accomplishment within the University was to engineer the successful diversification of the Department into food science, a development recognised in successive changes of title to, first, the Procter Department of Food and Leather Science and, later, to what has become the internationally-renowned Procter Department of Food Science. As a contemporary was later to write:

Ward inherited a department with a distinguished past and an unpromising future. Leather was a dying industry at Leeds and the department in danger of dying with it. Ward cut his losses. He refitted the ship, retrained its crew and made the vessel as seaworthy as it had ever been.

Sound reasoning lay behind the choice of food science as the vehicle of departmental regeneration. It enabled the interests and skills of existing staff to be assimilated and also took advantage of the strong links with the food industry and research associations established by Professor Ward in his previous appointment. It also helped to fill a gap in existing national provision. Although food science was becoming a topic of increasing public and national importance, it was still in its infancy as an academic discipline. The timeliness of the decision by Leeds was affirmed by the near-contemporaneous introduction of degree programmes at Nottingham and Reading.

Development of the Departments new programmes required intensive effort; and Professor Ward bore the brunt of the work involved. The first undergraduate cohort in Food Science was admitted in 1962, and an MSc introduced in 1966. Two-subject degrees with a number of pure science Departments Biochemistry, Microbiology and Physiology were added to the portfolio. A further MSc in Food Engineering followed in 1970. The same period saw the establishment, under Mr George Glew, of the successful Catering Research Unit which brought the application of food science and technology to the planning and development of large-scale catering operations.

At the same time, Professor Ward drew on his own experience and interests as a physicist to strengthen and broaden the teaching in leather science. A steady stream of papers bore witness to his own achievements in this field. Nonetheless, the number of students remained stubbornly low and the undergraduate programme in leather science was eventually discontinued in 1972, to be followed a few years later by the MSc that had replaced it. (One consequence of this was that Professor Ward was to be the sole holder of the title of Procter Professor of Food and Leather Science, bestowed on him when the department expanded into food science.) Despite the demands that were an inevitable corollary of the restructuring and running of the department, Professor Ward carried one of the heaviest teaching loads. He pioneered innovative teaching methods and was seen by his students as an accessible, sympathetic and helpful tutor and mentor.

The eminence Professor Ward achieved in both leather and food science was evident in the series of high offices held by him. He served as President of the national Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists from 1970 to 1972 and, from 1964 to 1975, as Honorary Treasurer of the international union of national societies (of which one of the main progenitors at the end of the nineteenth century had been Professor H R Procter of the Yorkshire College). Within the other principal area of his expertise, Professor Ward was a founder-member of the Institute of Food Science and Technology, set up in 1964 to advance the discipline and to develop a range of professional qualifications for those engaged within it. Professor Ward served as chair of the Institutes Education Committee and as its Vice-President before being elected to the Presidency in 1975. Two years earlier, he had been appointed as the first Chairman of the Food Science and Technology Board. Established under the auspices of several government departments, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Agricultural Research Council, the function of the Board was to advise on government funding for research and development in food and agriculture. Perhaps, however, Professor Wards most influential and sustained contribution to public life was through his chairmanship of the Food Standards Committee from 1965 to 1979. Comprising representatives of consumers, the food industry and scientific interests, the committee was charged with producing reports to form the basis for statutory regulations on the composition and labelling of food. Professor Wards authoritative yet unfailingly courteous and open approach to his role ensured that the committee functioned very much as a team in harmony. His many outstanding contributions to British food standards were recognised when, having previously been awarded the OBE in 1959, he was advanced to CBE in 1972.

Notwithstanding his extensive and diverse departmental and external responsibilities, Professor Ward still made room to participate in general University affairs. On the Senate and in a range of other fora, his wisdom and experience ensured that his counsel, invariably proffered with modesty and moderation, was received with keen anticipation and attention. In 1964, Professor Ward succeeded Professor Charles Whewell as Steward of the Senate Dining Club, fulfilling that office with a combination of warm conviviality and scrupulous attention to detail over the next decade.

Having stepped down as Head of the Department in 1974, Professor Ward elected to retire from his Chair in 1977, after eighteen years of richly beneficial service to the University. In retirement, he continued to maintain a strong interest in the fortunes of the Department and to lend his support to a number of its activities. He was a very active Chairman of the committee which organised the Procter Departments Centenary Celebration in 1991, whilst many retain vivid memories of the impressive lecture he gave to an audience of friends and former colleagues only five years ago, as part of the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the introduction of Food Science at Leeds a development with which his name will always be inextricably linked.

Away from his professional life, Professor Ward greatly enjoyed music and was an accomplished pianist. He was also a sports enthusiast, cricket being a particular passion - in his youth, he was a spin bowler of teasing skill and guile, although his prowess in this area did not extend to his batsmanship.

Professor Ward is survived by his three children, Jane, Mark and Susan, and by seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.