Aubrey Trotman-Dickenson, 1926-2016

Renowned chemist and administrator, known for his financial acumen and attention to detail, oversaw the creation of Cardiff University

December 1, 2016
Obituary: Aubrey Trotman-Dickenson, 1926-2016
Source: Cardiff University
Sir Aubrey Fiennes Trotman-Dickenson was knighted for his services to education in 1989

A leading chemist who is credited with the creation of Cardiff University has died aged 90.

Sir Aubrey Fiennes Trotman-Dickenson was also one of the UK’s longest-serving university heads, having led several Welsh institutions for a total of more than 25 years.

Born in Wilmslow, Cheshire, on 12 February 1926, he was educated at Winchester College before going to Balliol College, Oxford in 1944 on a chemistry scholarship.

After graduating, he moved to Canada to work at the National Research Council in Ottawa from 1948 to 1950 before heading to the University of Manchester on an ICI Fellowship, where he took his PhD.

After a stint in industry in the US, he became a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and was appointed professor and head of the chemistry department at Aberystwyth University at the age of 34.

As a leading authority on gas phase kinetics, he published two books and nearly 200 scientific papers in a 20-year academic career, with his first article in 1947 based on work done while at school with his chemistry teacher Eric James, who later became the first vice-chancellor of the University of York.

However, Sir Aubrey’s legacy is based largely on the formation of Cardiff University, where he was appointed principal in 1988.

Having overseen the development of the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (Uwist), one of the first colleges of advanced technology created in the late 1950s, he became its principal in 1968 at the age of 42. He was later the architect of its merger with University College Cardiff in 1988, leading to the creation of the University of Wales College Cardiff (its name was officially changed to Cardiff University in 1999).

As Uwist principal, “T-D”, as he was affectionately called, was praised for the remarkable speed with which the new university prospered.

He won plaudits for the massive programme of building and refurbishment between 1981 and 1983 that made it possible to house newly created or merged departments in appropriate accommodation, despite facing substantial budget cuts at the time.

His formidable eye for detail was noted, and it is believed that he designed the original carpets for the foyer and stairs in Cardiff’s Bute Building and for the Viriamu Jones Gallery in the Main Building, as well as Uwist’s iconic “clockwork dragon” crest.

Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, chair of the former University Grants Committee, described him as “one of the very best financial managers that any university or college has [had]”.

Sir Aubrey died on 11 November and is survived by Lady Danusia Trotman-Dickenson, an emeritus professor of economics at the University of South Wales, to whom he was married for 63 years. Also surviving him are two sons, seven grandchildren and one great-grandson. His daughter, Beatrice, a professor of radiology at Harvard University, died last year.

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