Gordon Reece, 1940-2017

Bristol-based expert in real-world applications of computer systems remembered

March 9, 2017
Gordon Reece, 1940-2017

An expert in applying computing systems to everything from geology to voting patterns has died.

Gordon Reece was born in Stafford in November 1940 and educated at the Royal Grammar School Worcester before going on to a degree in mathematics at King’s College London. He worked as a teacher and a lecturer at what are now London South Bank University and Kingston University while continuing his own studies. An MSc in quantum mechanics led to a funded PhD in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London, where he went on to secure a research fellowship.

In 1978, Dr Reece moved to the University of Bristol as a lecturer in the department of engineering mathematics, becoming senior lecturer in 1988. He was a pioneer in introducing electronic notes and multimedia presentations to his classes, but he was also willing to bribe his students with Mars bars to encourage them to ask questions.

An expert in computational fluid dynamics and mathematical geology, Dr Reece had a notable talent for using toys to explain highly abstract ideas to non-specialists. But he also used his insights to model both the spread of Aids epidemics and voting patterns in elections. Passionate about politics from his early days – he stood for election as a Labour candidate in 1963 – he found a highly effective method for translating people’s voting intentions into the make-up of the post-election Parliament. He often proved more accurate than professional pollsters and was much consulted as a pundit by the local media.

Dr Reece took on the role of head of academic staff development in 1989. He also served on the senate and the council and as director of undergraduate studies in engineering. It was said that he was part of so many committees and working parties that he could keep his papers separate only by using a special set of red plastic briefcases.

Although naturally exuberant, Dr Reece suffered from considerable ill health and had the strange distinction of losing the power of speech no less than three times – as a student with a meningioma, as a result of brain damage after a fall in 1999, and after a coma following meningitis in 2004. He returned to teaching after his brain injury but found it increasingly difficult; and as a committed, lifelong unionist, he accepted the position of Bristol branch secretary for the Association of University Teachers.

Dr Reece died of complications resulting from pneumonia on 16 January and is survived by his partner Kim Lee, a son, a daughter and six grandchildren.


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