Bob Wood

Bob Wood pictured on the Rio Niteroi Bridge in Brazil in 1974
Bob Wood pictured on the Rio Niteroi Bridge in Brazil in 1974
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Robert Wood OBE Bsc CEng FICE, Scottish civil engineer. Born: 19 December 1921 in Antofagsta, Chile. Died: 5 January 2019 in Edinburgh, aged 97

Robert Wood (known as “Bob’”to friends, family and colleagues) was one of the foremost civil engineers of his generation, with a 44-year career that saw him take a lead role in major construction projects across the UK and the rest of the world

In particular he built his reputation on iconic bridge construction projects, a number of which represented some of the largest and most challenging of their time. Built from the 1950s through to the 1980s, these included the Forth Road Bridge, the Humber Bridge and the Severn Crossing, as well as major river and estuary bridges and other construction projects in Australasia, South America and the Middle East.

Whether directly, or through joint ventures, he worked for some of the leading engineering and construction companies of the time, including Sir William Arroll & Co, Redpath Dorman Long, Cleveland Bridge and John Holland.

His full and active long life included many notable achievements and events, in his work as well as his family life. In the mid-1950s he ventured with his wife Audrey, who had never left her native Scotland, to the heart of Iraq to build the Samawah Highway suspension bridge over the Euphrates river.

During one trip across a desert road to Baghdad they could easily have perished when their car broke down and they were left stranded for hours in searing heat. They survived and went on to have 63 years of happy married life together.

Some 33 years after the completion of the that bridge in Samawah, Bob and Audrey sat in their home in Barnton, Edinburgh, in February 1991, and during a BBC news report of the first Gulf War, watched as laser-guided bombs descended on and destroyed the bridge.

With his depth of civil engineering expertise and his calm but determined approach, Bob became known for his ability to take over and turn around projects that had run into trouble, including the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne, which had suffered a collapse mid-construction.

In 1965 Bob was honoured with a MBE for services in the construction of the Forth Road Bridge, and then with an OBE in 1975, for services in constructing the Rio Niteroi Bridge in Brazil. The final major project of Bob’s career was not a bridge, but rather the steel superstructure of an iconic building, namely the Norman Foster-designed Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank headquarters in Hong Kong.

At the time it was the most expensive building in the world. Bob’s part of the construction was completed in August 1984.

Over the course of his life Bob developed a great affection for the many places he lived and worked in, as well as with the many people he met and worked with.

In particular, three countries stood out. Firstly, Chile, where his English father and Scottish mother had moved, his father to work on the new railway system, and where Bob was born – family members still live there today.

Secondly, Scotland, where he grew up in Cambuslang with his maternal grandmother and aunt, and was educated in Glasgow at Allan Glens school and then Glasgow University. He always thought fondly of his Scottish roots, and he included a saltire flag in the final span ceremony for each of the major bridges for which he was responsible.

Thirdly, Australia – he and Audrey became regular visitors over the rest of their lives to Melbourne, where his eldest daughter made her life after the project he had worked on was completed.

Bob Wood was greatly admired and respected by his many professional work colleagues around the world, and loved by family and friends alike, who warmed to his gentle sense of humour, combined with an absolute determination to do the right thing in the style of a true gentleman of the “old school”.

He was predeceased by his wife Audrey, by some five years, during which he had to face the final great challenge of his life with progressive Alzheimer’s disease, throughout which he nevertheless retained the positivity for which he had been an inspiration to so many.

He is survived by his two daughters, four grandchildren and two great- grandchildren.

KEITH HOWELL