Professor Donald Leach

Principal of Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh, 1985-96

Born: 24 June, 1931, in Croydon, Surrey.

Died: 25 February, 2009, in Edinburgh, aged 77.

AS PRINCIPAL of Queen Margaret College (QMC) Professor Donald Leach CBE, BSc, FRSA, transformed and modernised the college, starting the expansion programme that was fulfilled with the opening of the new campus at Craighall, east of Edinburgh, in 2007. He refashioned the college from its beginnings as the Edinburgh School of Cookery and expanded departments such as nursing, drama and social sciences.

Leach increased the number (and expertise) of the lecturers and began the process of achieving university status for the college.

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Leach's far-reaching plans for QMC brought a threefold increase in the number of students, the advance of its international reputation and the award of important research grants. These advances marked him out as an innovator and a principal of outstanding ability.

Leach was educated at John Ruskin Grammar school in Croydon, leaving at 16 to work in a laboratory. In his spare time he studied for a BSc at the University of London before joining the Expanded Rubber Company. The firm sent him to manage its Dundee office in 1951.

Following national service with the RAF, he returned briefly to the south before securing a job with the British Jute Trade Research Association. Again he studied further and achieved a BSc (with honours) in maths and physics at Dundee Technical College, where he lectured for a few years.

He was appointed to the South Eastern Regional Hospital Board and the Lothian Health Board before serving on various computing committees for the Scottish Home and Health Department. In 1965 Leach moved to Edinburgh and became a lecturer in mathematics at Napier Technical College. Within two years he was head of the departments of mathematics and computing and dean of the faculty of science.

In 1985, Leach was appointed principal of Queen Margaret College; it was an adventurous appointment but an inspired one as he was single-minded in his enthusiasm and ambitions for the college. He encouraged the staff to involve students at all levels, academically and socially, and expanded the syllabus.

He promoted research projects and was keen to convert from diploma to degree courses.

Leach considered it important to raise the profile of QMC by involving himself in many aspects of Edinburgh life – serving on various academic committees, becoming a member of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and acting as its president in 1996-98.

Leach's connection with Leith came with his negotiating the purchase of the former Leith Academy buildings in Duke Street and then the Gateway Theatre on Leith Walk. He, again, involved himself in local projects and was a high constable of Leith and chairman of the Leith Chamber of Commerce.

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He is remembered at both chambers as an active and dedicated president. Graham Bell of the Leith Chamber recalls that "he was very generous with his time, especially when he had so much to attend to at QMC. Professor Leach was also much involved with moving the Edinburgh Chamber into Conference House: the heart of the Edinburgh financial institutions. He was much respected and liked."

He retired in 1996 and was awarded an honorary professorship and, in 2004, an honorary doctorate of education by Queen Margaret University. In that year he was also made a CBE.

His connection with the college continued and Leach funded a scholarship for the drama and creative industries department, which he took pleasure in presenting each year.

In his younger days Leach had been active in politics and stood, first, as a Liberal candidate in West Edinburgh (1959) and East Fife (1961), and then for Labour in West Perthshire in 1970.

Leach sat on numerous committees and served as chairman of the Scottish branch of the Institute of Mathematics, Edinburgh's Lifelong Learning Partnership and the National Council of Academic Awards.

A very personal interest was the Mendelssohn Festival on the Isle of Mull. He and his wife holidayed on the island and they had a house in Tobermory. He had been connected with the festival for some years and became a trustee in 2005.

Levon Chilingirian, the festival's artistic director, spoke warmly of Leach, saying: "Donald loved music and devoted much time and energy to encouraging the young musicians who came to Mull.

"He was always practical and wise – to see Donald in action was reassuring: always in control and enthusiastic. Donald improved the financial base of the festival and we shall all miss him. He was down to earth, warm and very hospitable."

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Leach married June Reid while he was in Dundee in the 1950s. She died soon after his retirement and he married Marilyn in 1999. She survives him, as do his three children from his first marriage.