Obituary: David Lessels, accomplished and well-regarded law lecturer and academic administrator at Aberdeen University

David Lessels, law lecturer and administrator. Born 11 February, 1949 in Edinburgh. Died 28 December, 2018 in Longniddry, aged 69

David Lessels has died at the age of 69
David Lessels has died at the age of 69

David Lessels who has died aged 69, was a highly accomplished, effective and well-regarded law lecturer and academic administrator for 40 years at Aberdeen University till his retiral in 2013.

His exceptional popularity among students and colleagues was manifest when he was accorded the accolade of being piped out of his final lecture amid much celebration and later in the staging of a special ceilidh and dinner in his honour at the University’s historic Elphinstone Hall attended by large numbers of students and staff.

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On retirement at the instigation of colleagues the title of Emeritus Professor was conferred on him, an honour with which he was delighted and one richly deserved. Throughout his academic career he concentrated on teaching and administration rather than research at a time when the latter was the principal criterion for professorial appointment. He was a gifted teacher who prepared meticulously and communicated well with students to whom he imparted his enthusiasm for the subject with a sense of enjoyment and fun, inspiring many to go on to achieve considerable professional success to his immense satisfaction. An empathetic, generously spirited and likeable individual who cared deeply for his charges, he was a source of much support and encouragement. His outstanding memory for names and faces and ability to make people feel at ease facilitated the fulfilment of his various duties while endearing him to many.

He began at Aberdeen Law School in September 1973 briefly lecturing in criminology before teaching the Scottish legal system and then Family Law at both ordinary and honours levels. Although his knowledge of his subjects was profound he was no dry academic and delivered lectures in an occasionally dramatic and theatrical style to stimulate students’ attention and interest.

Away from the lecture hall, he performed a number of roles in the School. He was initially involved in schools’ liaison locally to attract potential students which expanded to the Far East, requiring him to travel to Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. While Director of Studies, he was assiduous in dealing with students’ various requirements and was always anxious to ensure they maximised their abilites. As a result of his growing reputation he was appointed the School’s Admissions Officer, a very responsible and demanding position requiring him to carry out a painstaking assessment of candidates’ suitability through reams of paperwork, a task he did single-handedly. As Director of Teaching and Learning he was very influential in the setting up of curriculum and assessment models.

He was also principally responsible for the setting up of the School’s Erasmus exchange programme which began in France with destinations including Lyon, Grenoble and Clermont and extended to Bilbao and Seville in Spain and Aarhus in Denmark. He had to select candidates and visit the venues in question, causing him to remark with a twinkle in his eye: “It’s dirty work but someone has to do it!” As in all his duties, he performed these with great kindness and attention to detail, and ensured the welfare of visiting students.

David Percival Lessels was born in a nursing home in Drumsheugh Gardens in Edinburgh, a building coincidentally designed by his great-grandfather John Lessels, a noted Victorian architect. His father Percival was a Clerk of the Court of Session and mother Maureen nee Wilson a nurse. The youngest of four children, the others being John, Phillip and Eileen, he was brought up initially in Lamancha south of Edinburgh where he attended the small village school. Following family moves he later attended primary schools in Musselburgh and Cramond where a teacher suggested he apply for a scholarship to Daniel Stewart’s College, now Stewart’s Melville. He did so successfully and attended from age 13 onwards. Academically and on the sports field he did well, a promising rugby winger noted for “a fair turn of speed and running well with the ball”. Unfortunately a bad knee injury curtailed his rugby and sprinting aspirations causing him to concentrate on golf at which he also represented the school and captained the junior section at Liberton Golf Club. In his final year he was awarded a prize for “Good Service to the School,” foreshadowing perhaps the future.

He studied law at Dundee University and after a brief period of tax inspector training in Edinburgh went to Hull University to complete a D Phil in criminology to launch his subsequent career in Aberdeen. In 1970 through friends he met future wife Sue who as a medical student then was living in the same building where David had been born. They married in Aberdeen in November 1973 and enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage for 45 years during which they had three children, Ellie, Tom and Andrew.

David continued his passion for golf as a long-term member at the Royal Aberdeen club, once achieving a single figure handicap. When retired, to facilitate contact with family, they moved to Longniddry where David integrated well into the local community, joining both Probus and the nearby golf club where he played regularly, its flag lowered as a mark of respect on the day of his funeral.

Family came first in his life and when the children were young, much enjoyed annual camping holidays in France were the norm. He encouraged them in all their activities and as a music lover himself was proud of their musical accomplishments.

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He absolutely adored his grandchildren, Finn, Maggie, Lena and Albie and cherished time spent with them. An exacting and consummate professional, he was at the same time a delightful person, much admired, respected and loved by all.

He is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.

JACK DAVIDSON