Obituary: Professor John Maxwell Irvine, 73

Prof John Maxwell Irvine was revered for his work
Prof John Maxwell Irvine was revered for his work
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Tributes have been paid to Professor John Maxwell Irvine, a revered academic who died last month, aged 73.

Born on February 28, 1939 in Morningside and educated at George Heriot’s school, the respected physicist was the son of the late John and Joan.

A keen rugby and football player, his studies were far from his main focus as a youngster, and as a result his parents were called up to the school to discuss his efforts.

It was suggested at this meeting that he was wasting the school’s time and his parents’ money in continuing with his education.

A turnaround in fortunes occurred when he discovered his passion – designing aeroplanes. He then began to study hard in the areas of maths and physics.

After graduating from Edinburgh University in 1961 with BSc qualifications in physics and maths, John moved to America to do his Masters at Michigan University.

In 1962 he married his wife Grace and landed a job as assistant lecturer at Manchester University two years later. He held that role for a couple of years before again moving to the US to become a research associate at Cornell University in New York State.

John returned to Manchester in 1968 as a lecturer. Promotions to senior lecturer and reader soon followed before becoming professor of theoretical physics in 1983 and Dean of Science in 1989.

He arrived at Aberdeen University in 1991 and with 30 years’ experience behind him as an active physicist, guided it through its quincentenary year – 1995 – as principal and vice-chancellor.

He helped create the Aberdeen Research Consortium and headed a university fundraising campaign which garnered £30 million despite an original target of just £1m.

The university appointed 20 professors of medicine and established Quincentenary Fellowships on the back of that money, which John helped to raise by travelling the world.

After a spell in Birmingham, he returned to the Granite City to be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws to add to an honorary DSc from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. He received that degree alongside former United States president George Bush Snr.

John was also an accomplished author with numerous books and publications to his credit.

Current senior vice-principal at Aberdeen University, Stephan Logan, said: “Professor John Maxwell Irvine was an exceptional physicist. He will be remembered as an outstanding principal who will be sadly missed not only by former colleagues and students but by the north-east community.”

John, who died on March 24, is survived by his wife Grace, their son Ritchie and partner Elizabeth and granddaughter Beatrice.