Obituary: Colin Grant, chemical engineer & climber

University's 'driving force' was also a skilled climber who had his fair share of dramas. Picture: Contributed
University's 'driving force' was also a skilled climber who had his fair share of dramas. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 3 June, 1946, in Glasgow. Died: 3 September, 2014, aged 68.

Colin Grant, who died suddenly aged 68, was an associate deputy principal at the University of Strathclyde and an enthusiastic climber who was a driving force in all he did.

Colin was born in Glasgow and spent his first few years in Germany where his father, Harry Grant, was working with prisoners displaced by the war. The family moved to Ghana, from where he was sent to school at Fettes College, and then went on to study chemical engineering at the Royal College of Science and Technology in Glasgow. His time at the college, which was soon to become the University of Strathclyde, set the patterns for the rest of his life in both chemical engineering and climbing.

Colin spent 51 years at the university, making him truly a Strathclyder, and he epitomised the quality and dedication all in academia seek to achieve. The university owes Colin a huge debt for the massive contribution he made to the success of the institution as teacher, manager and leader. He enriched the lives of so many people who had the privilege of knowing him.

Colin began at the Royal College as a student apprentice of Babcock and Wilcox in Renfrew in 1963, and obtained a first class BSc honours degree in 1967.

After three years as a research assistant, he became a lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Strathclyde in 1970, rising through the ranks to become head of department in 1987. He held this post until 2006 – a remarkable run that made him the longest-serving departmental head in Strathclyde’s history. He was appointed to the Roche Chair of Chemical Engineering in 1989.

He was also a committed and enthusiastic member of the Institute of Chemical Engineers. Joining in 1973, Colin served on IChemE’s Council on three separate occasions, with his first spell running from 1988–1990 as an elected member. He returned from 1993–1996 as chairman of the professional development committee and from 2005–2009 as vice president for qualifications, where he was responsible for developing and implementing national and international strategy for all educational, accreditation, continuous professional development (CPD) and membership activities.

He won several of IChemE’s top honours throughout his career, including the Council Medal for services to chemical engineering in Scotland on two occasions, the second in 2005 for his work as chair of the 7th World Congress of Chemical Engineering. He was also awarded the IChemE’s Arnold Greene Medal in 1997, which honours long-term service to the institution, and was awarded for his dedication in supporting qualifications work and the CPD programme.

In 2006, Colin joined the University’s senior management when he became the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering – a post he held until 2010, when he became Associate Deputy Principal for Education. This post saw him bring his extensive experience to bear on the university-wide strategy for learning and teaching and the student experience.

His time in this post saw a number of significant professional successes for Colin. He led from the front as the University embraced global online learning in the shape of Massive, Open, Online Courses. Strathclyde’s course in Forensic Science became the most popular in the UK, thanks to the dedication of a team led by Colin.

Colin also represented the university and IChemE overseas on many occasions. His most recent international visit was to Tianjin University in China, to re-accredit a degree programme he had first accredited in 2008.

Colin was also heavily involved in the development of Strathclyde’s Engineering Academy – a programme that has developed a route from college, to university, to employment for promising engineers.

His involvement was also crucial in the very successful external audit of the university’s teaching and learning earlier this year by the Quality Assurance Agency.

The widespread shock and sadness that followed the news of Colin’s passing acted as testimony to the respect and affection he rightly attracted from all corners of Strathclyde – from the university’s executive team and court members, to fellow academics, administrative and support staff and – last but not least – the students.

Colin’s dedication to Strathclyde was matched by his love of the hills. To Colin, the mountains were not just a place to pass time. They were a non-negotiable part of who he was and a passion many were lucky enough to share with him over the years.

His love of climbing and the mountains is no surprise, as he came from a family that loved the mountains. With his sister Fiona, there were many family holidays in Glencoe. In the 1960s he frequently spent weekends in the old barn at Altnafeadh, climbing in the mountains and forging lifelong friendships. In the 70s and 80s, he was very active in the group of Glasgow climbers who developed the winter climbing in Beinn an Dothaidh and the Bridge of Orchy hills.

While Colin’s climbing was generally characterised by a skilful and cautious approach, he had his fair share of dramas. Being avalanched and breaking his ankle in Stob Coire nan Lochan was memorable, as he suffered more discomfort from the barracking he got from his friends in the rescue team than from his injuries.

Over this period, Colin was at the centre of a wide circle of climbers, where this enthusiasm and energy was renowned. He was at the heart of organising trips to Spain, Hebrides, Corsica, USA, Italy and France – and almost anywhere there was good rock, ice and beer.

He had an enormous passion for the Scottish mountains and was well on the way to climbing all the Munros for a third time. This enthusiasm often meant he would head off by himself to do a few tops when he could not find any one to go with. In recent years, he had broadened his approach to the hills and had started to use bicycles, kayaks and sailing boats to explore the Highlands. He approached each of these activities with the same enthusiasm and dedication as his climbing.

This passion was still with him right to the end. He had just arrived back from a trip to Skye on the day before he died, and he was planning an October climbing trip to Sicily.

As well as being active on the hills, Colin played his part in the Scottish Mountaineering Club, as an active participant in the debates in the club, on the committee and as vice-president.

Alongside all these activities, Colin also made time for his family. Again, this was based around pastimes including skiing, bridge, golf and tennis – in Glasgow and also at their house on Arran.

He is survived by his wife Maida and two boys John and David.