Alexander Forrester, 1935-2021

Tributes paid to a pioneer in the commercialisation of academic research notable for his ‘ferocious work ethic’

February 18, 2021
Alexander Forrester, 1935-2021

A leading chemist and university vice-principal who began his working life as a professional footballer has died.

Alexander Forrester was born in Fife, Scotland, in 1935 but grew up in the small town of Alloa and then near the city of Stirling. He showed an early aptitude for sport and joined the Sauchie junior football club when he left school, before turning professional with Third Lanark. In parallel to this, in the summer, he played cricket for Clackmannanshire and formed part of the team that won the Scottish County Championship.

Alongside his sporting activities, Professor Forrester found work as a laboratory technician with The Distillers Company and soon realised that any career progression would require further academic qualifications. He gained a first degree in chemistry from what was then Heriot-Watt College (1958) and, while continuing to play football for Partick Thistle, joined Paisley College of Technology – now the University of the West of Scotland – as a lecturer in chemistry. Next he began the connection with the University of Aberdeen that would last for the rest of his career.

After completing a PhD (1963), Professor Forrester joined the Aberdeen faculty as an assistant lecturer in organic chemistry and abandoned professional football, though he got as close as substitute to appearing in the Scotland cricket team. An expert in fields such as free radical chemistry and electron spin resonance spectroscopy, he was promoted to professor and head of the chemistry department in 1987 before switching to senior management roles as dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, vice-principal (science) and the university’s first vice-principal for the development and commercialisation of its research.

“Alex’s approach to his work mirrored his attitude on the sports field,” recalled Geoff McQuillan, who worked in Aberdeen’s chemistry department from 1962 to 2002. “Although widely known and respected, initially in Scotland and the UK and increasingly internationally, he was not a natural networker or glad-hander. He preferred rather to be judged on his output, which was invariably meticulously researched, carefully produced and intrinsically authoritative. All of this derived from a ferocious work ethic…More than one wavering student was sustained in difficult times and quietly shepherded through to graduation.”

Though his later life was dogged by ill health, even a heart attack couldn’t keep Professor Forrester away from the golf course for long, but he eventually succumbed to vascular dementia and what appeared to be Parkinson’s disease. He died on 4 January and is survived by his wife, Myrna, four children and three grandchildren.

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