Sir Gordon Hobday, the son of a lathe operator, was born in Sawley, Derbyshire on 1 February 1916 and educated at Long Eaton Grammar School. He graduated with a first in chemistry from University College Nottingham and followed this up with a PhD in biochemistry at the University of London. In 1939, he joined Boots the Chemist as a comparatively lowly research assistant and worked his way up to the top.
Appointed director of research in 1952, Sir Gordon oversaw the team that developed the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen, whose formula was finally patented in 1961. He was promoted to deputy managing director in 1968, managing director in 1970 and chairman in 1973, retiring in 1981 after more than four decades at Boots. He was knighted in 1979.
Although it was only after retirement that Sir Gordon became lord lieutenant for Nottinghamshire (1983-91), his tenure as president of council (1973-82) and chancellor (1978-92) of the university overlapped with his time at Boots. He served alongside vice-chancellors Basil Weedon and Sir Colin Campbell and was praised by the incumbent, Sir David Greenaway, for his “life-long interest in the university” and his commitment to public engagement.
Keith Hamill, a Nottingham alumnus and president of its governing council from 2003 to 2011, recalled how he had been elected president of the students’ union “on a platform of constructive negotiation with the university…after a long period of disruptive ‘student rebellion’” in the 1970s. Sir Gordon proved an enthusiastic partner in this and “made a point of conspicuously welcoming members of the union executive at university functions and spending considerable time talking and joking with them”.
When the students strongly rejected a planned increase in accommodation charges, Sir Gordon immediately accepted a proposal to council “that in view of the students’ financial difficulties and the way they had been presented, the increase should be reduced by half. Gordon put the proposal to a vote immediately and the reduction was carried before the hostile part of the administration knew what had happened.”
Mr Hamill added: “We were very young and inexperienced, and coping with the febrile atmosphere of student politics in the 1970s. We badly needed friends – and, unlikely as it might have then seemed, the chairman of Boots was among those we found.”
Sir Gordon died on 27 May and is survived by his second wife Patricia and daughter Ann.