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Adam Neville

Professor Adam Neville, CBE

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death of Professor Adam Neville CBE, on 6 October, former Professor of Civil Engineering and Head of the Department of Civil Engineering.

Born Adam Maciej Lisocki in Poland in 1923, Adam first came to England at the age of 15 to study, when he won a scholarship from the British Council for an essay written in English. He returned to Poland in 1939 to be with his family. He was imprisoned by the Russians, serving 18 months at a hard labour camp in Siberia when he was still only 16, in terribly harsh conditions. In 1941 he was freed following the Soviet amnesty for Polish prisoners and managed, alone and in very poor health, to reach Iran, where he joined the Free Polish Forces under British Command. Here he finished his high school education, and thus became an officer in the Forces, and was reunited with his mother, who was serving as a pharmacist in a Forces field hospital. Adam served in Persia, Iraq, Palestine and Italy with great distinction. He was decorated four times for gallantry and was awarded the Cross of Monte Cassino and the Polish Cross of Valour for exceptional courage.

When the war ended, Adam returned to Britain and studied at Queen Mary College, London, where he was an outstanding student, gaining (in 1950) first class honours in engineering, followed by a master’s degree. His first academic role was at Southampton University, quickly followed by posts in New Zealand, where he met his wife and where their two children, Elizabeth and Andrew, were born. Further moves and new challenges followed, including a lectureship at Manchester University; an external University of London PhD; service as a Royal Engineer in the Territorial Army; and the post of the first Dean of Engineering at the Nigerian College of Technology, which he took up in 1960. It was whilst in Nigeria (1963) that Adam wrote his seminal book, Properties of Concrete, known by engineering students and qualified engineers alike as the ‘Concrete Bible’ and the last word upon concrete. It has been translated into 13 languages and has sold over a million copies, with the completely revised fifth edition published as recently as 2011. In 1963 Adam and his family also moved to Canada, to the new University of Calgary, as the founding Dean of Engineering, where Adam discovered the joy of skiing – a pastime that he did not give up until he was 80.

Adam joined the University of Leeds in 1968 as Professor and Head of the Department of Civil Engineering. With characteristic energy and drive, he built up the department to become the largest civil engineering department in the UK. A truly meritocratic Head, he encouraged women to take up engineering study and careers, an approach for which his department became famous - at one time there were more female civil engineering students at the University than in all the other UK civil engineering departments combined. Adam continued to publish throughout his career at Leeds – Properties of Concrete being only the first of eleven internationally renowned books, five of which are still in print – and his meticulous and highly insightful research was an inspiration to colleagues and students alike. His specialism throughout his career was concrete construction and he pioneered the study of high alumina cement, predicting its instability even when such a view was controversial amongst his peers. In 1965 his research excellence was recognised by the award of a DSc by the University of London, with a second DSc being awarded by Leeds in 1978. As well as being a world-class researcher, Adam was a popular teacher who was respected for leading his field, but also leading by example, setting the same very high standards of intellectual endeavour and comportment for himself as he did for his students.

Adam left the University in 1978 to become Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Dundee. He guided that University through extremely challenging times for almost a decade with great skill and success, retiring in 1987 to become an engineering consultant. In 1988 the University recognised his outstanding service by instigating the annual Adam Neville Lectures , and he was presented with an honorary degree by Dundee in 1998.

In addition to his hugely significant career in Higher Education, Adam contributed enormously to the broader field of engineering. He was made an Honorary Fellow of Queen Mary University of London; Magistrale Honorem of the Polytechnic University of Turin; President of the Concrete Society (he was also awarded its gold medal); and Vice-President of the Royal Academy of Engineering (the Academy awarded him a Medal for Sustained Achievement in 2008). After his retirement from Dundee he was much sought after as an expert witness in his field. He was made a CBE in 1994 for services to technology and science.

Adam was an outstanding scholar and possessed of exceptional dedication and energy. During his years at Leeds, he significantly developed his discipline and his department and colleagues watched his future career with great interest. A great traveller and an accomplished linguist, he was a true adventurer, and his spirit of questing curiosity inspired all those who worked and studied alongside him. He will be remembered at Leeds with great respect.

The next speaker of the Adam Neville Lecture in 2017 will be Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology