Obituary: George O’Hara, engineer, cyclist, author and publisher

George O'Hara: Marine engineer and cyclist who was also an expert on railway heritage
George O'Hara: Marine engineer and cyclist who was also an expert on railway heritage
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Born: 27 July, 1946, in Glasgow. Died: 10 July, 2015, in Glasgow, aged 68

George O’Hara was a marine engineer whose interests in transport extended well beyond the ships and energy installations that were the focus of his professional career.

Though his CV included the iconic Govan Shipbuilders and some of the biggest names in the offshore industry, he was perhaps better known for his cycling prowess and vast knowledge of Scotland’s railway heritage.

An accomplished cyclist who rode and raced for more than 50 years – he held the record for cycling from Glasgow to Oban and back for almost two decades – he was also an author and publisher of books on the Clyde shipbuilding industry and on the railways where he was an authority on Scottish branch lines and the final days of steam.

Born and bred on Clydeside, where he spent his formative years, he was educated at Whiteinch Primary and Drumchapel’s Kingsridge Secondary School before working as an office boy with ship and insurance brokers Roxburgh, Colin Scott & Co.

He then began an apprenticeship as a ship draughtsman with Charles Connell Ltd shipbuilders on the Clyde.

By the early 1970s he had moved to Govan Shipbuilders as a project engineer but the once mighty Clyde shipbuilding industry was already in serious decline. Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) had gone into liquidation, prompting the famous work-in, led by trade unionist Jimmy Reid, designed to save the jobs of thousands of employees by showing that the workers could complete the orders without the management.

In 1972 they won the fight and Govan Shipbuilders was formed from the remnants of UCS.

O’Hara spent two years there, between 1972 and 1974, before moving to John Brown Engineering (Offshore) as assistant plant manager. As his career progressed he held posts in engineering and construction at companies including Chevron, Shell Expro, Mobil North Sea and AMEC.

He also worked as a structural engineer at Phillips Petroleum in Norway and became a chartered engineer with the Institute of Marine Engineers following the project management and development of a green water protection structure on a floating production storage and offloading (FPSO)vessel.

In 1999 he was working as project manager at Scopus Engineering, providing services in the defence industry to BAE Systems in the construction of their new naval vessels. He later worked as a construction manager on an onshore gas terminal in Barrow-in-Furness and for PSN on various projects for Talisman and BP. He was also deputy site manager for Nexen during their Buzzard project in Spain.

Latterly he worked part-time on a consultancy basis for FLEX-LNG, procuring liquefied natural gas FPSOs, for Shell evaluating options for its plant at Bacton and as a consultant naval architect for Petrofac.

His varied marine engineering career also ran alongside his love of cycling and writing. Having begun cycling at the age of 11, the sport, with the exception of his family, was probably his greatest love. He was a lifelong member of the Glasgow Ivy Cycling Club and an accomplished racer in his young years. He retired from active racing at the age of 29 but remained very active within the sport and was a race official, attending, and often entering, race meets.

Described as a versatile, durable and tenacious cyclist, who had many race wins under his belt, his greatest achievements were often in long-distance time trials and races.

He held the Scottish 12-hour time trial record and his Glasgow-Oban return run, in under nine hours, remained unbeaten for 18 years. When the record was broken it was said to have been achieved on a shorter, better road.

Meanwhile, he was also busy collating material, writing and setting up a publishing business, Clyard Novella, where he lived in Prestwick, to produce a number of books that have become well-respected volumes, particularly among railway buffs. He was a member of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, and his first book, Scottish Urban and Rural Branchlines was an extensive photographic record of the routes. He followed that with Ironfighters, Outfitters and Bowler Hatters, a comprehensive look at the post-war shipbuilding industry on the Clyde. The book was illustrated with more than 600 photographs of activity in the shipyards and the foreword was written by Jimmy Reid.

He also produced British Railways Scottish Region Colour Album No1, BR Diesel Traction in Scotland, BR Steam in Scotland and 100 Years of Shipping on the River Clyde, which was published by the Scottish Shipping Benevolent Association.

His publishing interests led to an engagement as a guest speaker/lecturer on a cruise which then sparked a love of cruising for both him and his wife, Beatrice, whom he married in 1967.

At the time of his death, following a road accident involving a lorry while he was out cycling, he was working on the research for his next book which was to have concentrated on British industrial heritage.

He is survived by his wife, their son Kenneth, daughter Elaine and grandsons Lewis and Brodie.