Donald Leach, a highly effective principal of what is now Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, has died.
He was born on 24 June 1931 and educated in Croydon, London. He left school at 16 to work in a laboratory, while studying for a BSc at the University of London on a day-release scheme. He worked for the Expanded Rubber Company, as a pilot officer navigator in the Royal Air Force, at Mullard's Vacuum Physics Laboratory and the British Jute Trade Research Association. He then completed a part-time degree in mathematics and physics at Dundee Technical College (now Abertay Dundee University), and began his academic career there as a visiting lecturer in mathematics.
Professor Leach was always interested in politics and twice stood as a Liberal parliamentary candidate. He switched to the Labour Party in 1964, inspired by Prime Minister Harold Wilson's commitment to science and "the white heat of the technological revolution".
He was appointed to the South Eastern Regional Hospital Board and then the Lothian Health Board. A move to Edinburgh and Napier Technical College (now Edinburgh Napier University) followed in 1965. In two years, he moved up the ranks from lecturer to head of the department of mathematics and computing, then dean of the faculty of science. He played a crucial role in piloting Napier's BSc in science with industrial studies and the greater use of computers in its mathematics courses.
The most important phase of Professor Leach's career began in 1985, when he was appointed the first male principal of the predominantly female Queen Margaret College (QMC). By the time he retired in 1996, its student numbers, including many from abroad, had more than tripled, its research base was far stronger and a number of its diplomas had been converted into degree courses. Expansion was facilitated by buying the former Leith Academy building from the City of Edinburgh, and then purchasing the Gateway Theatre.
Professor Leach received a CBE in 2004 for his achievements at QMC. He also left a lasting legacy. By maintaining QMC's independence and securing degree-awarding powers, he laid firm foundations for its transformation into Queen Margaret University in 2007.
David Caldwell, director of Universities Scotland, remembers Professor Leach as "an energetic and talented academic leader who wanted to drive change and usually succeeded. He was challenging and demanding, but he had a strong underlying sense of purpose that made working with him stimulating and rewarding."
Professor Leach died on 25 February 2009 and is survived by his second wife, Marilyn, three children, five grandchildren, five stepsons and two step-grandchildren.