Colin Williams was born in Newport in 1948 and, after undergoing several operations for an orthopaedic condition as a child, went on to pursue a brief career in the music industry as a gig promoter, and spent time in Tunisia and South America working in the oil industry, before finally settling on a career in academia.
Dr Williams studied geology at the University of Plymouth as a mature student, then earned a master's in marine earth sciences from University College London before returning to Plymouth to complete his doctorate and lecture part time.
In 1994 he was awarded a one-year research fellowship; two years later he was made programme leader of geology by Jim Griffiths, head of the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the institution.
While there, he and Professor Griffiths started a breakfast club in which members met every morning to swap stories on anything from events in politics or the university, to new developments in science or the latest results for Plymouth Argyle Football Club.
The pair were also involved in running a professional skills course for final-year geologists, covering subjects such as project management, psychometric assessment and interview techniques. Professor Griffiths recalled: "For the interviews Colin loved the opportunity to role-play in order to demonstrate both the best way to get a job and the way to make yourself unemployable. I suspect the latter is remembered most by the students." Dr Williams consulted for several oil companies and preserved links with the offshore oil industry. Meanwhile, his interest in widening participation in higher education led him to join the University Partner College Faculty (now University of Plymouth Colleges Faculty) when it was established in 2003. In 2008, he was appointed executive dean of the faculty and oversaw it as it grew to encompass 19 institutions across south-west England.
Paying tribute to Dr Williams, Mary Watkins, senior deputy vice-chancellor of Plymouth, said: "He was tremendously proud of the fact that so many thousands of people across the South West had been able to access degrees and realise their talents with Plymouth through the University Partner College network." She described Dr Williams as having an "ever-cheerful demeanour which made him universally popular across campus".
Mark Stone, acting dean of the UPC Faculty, added: "Colleagues felt loyalty to and friendship for Colin. All this was achieved by making time to know people, providing thoughtful guidance and robust analysis. I will remember our years working together with great pleasure, and I am proud to say I worked for Colin."
Dr Williams died on 4 March. He is survived by his wife and two children.