Sir Fraser Noble

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Sir Fraser Noble, university principal

Born: 29 April, 1918, at Cromdale, Moray Died: 21 August, 2003, at Nairn, aged 85.

SIR Fraser Noble swept from lecturer to university vice-chancellor in five years. The move typified the scale of the man. A classicist, he went on to become an economist and to lead two universities.

Noble peaked early, yet his rise continued. Appointed MBE at just 29, he became secretary of the Carnegie Trust for Scottish Universities a decade later, one of the youngest to be appointed to a post normally reserved for an academic senior in rank and years.

Sir Fraser, possessed of considerable charisma, socialised well and enjoyed public occasions. This ability to move easily through both the groves of academe and the corridors of power was recognised by his peers, who in 1970 voted him chairman of the UK Committee of Vice-Chancellors. The post, now termed president, requires strong leadership qualities, essentially representing the interface between universities and government. His instant recall of names and faces was a talent he employed to good effect in disarming politicians and civil servants, many of whom barely knew him.

Sir Fraser and controversy rarely courted each other. He smoothed his public path by identifying problems in advance, using his renowned interpersonal skills to sound out the important players. When decisions came to be taken, his quiet diplomacy ensured that consensus was the order of the day.

Thomas Alexander Fraser Noble was born in Cromdale in the heart of the Speyside whisky country, son of Simon Noble, a schoolmaster, and Jeanie Graham. Educated at Nairn Academy, he entered Aberdeen University as a student of "exceptional promise". Promise ripened into performance when he took first class honours in classics, followed by the same again in economic science.

Joining the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) in 1940, he was transferred within a year to the Indian Civil Service. He served in the North West Frontier, first as assistant commissioner in Hazara and then as political agent in Waziristan, before becoming controller of rationing in Peshawar.

His final post, civil aide to the Referendum Commissioner, involved him in groundwork for the partition of India.

In 1947, he was made MBE, returning to the UK to take up lecturing in political economy at the University of Aberdeen.

A decade later, his consummate administrative skills brought him to the attention of the trustees of the Carnegie Trust, the organisation supporting needy students and funding research in Scotland, and at that time looking for a new secretary.

When the vice-chancellorship of the University of Leicester fell vacant in 1962, Noble exchanged the vigour of the thriving charity he led for the frustrations of university economics. He threw himself into he new environment, serving beyond his campus with bodies such as East Midlands Economic Planning Council.

In Leicester and latterly Aberdeen, Noble presided over expansion, both universities naming buildings him. He continued this zest for growth when, in 1976, he arrived in Aberdeen. The student roll then stood at some 5000, but the programmes he initiated cater for 12,000 today. His political antennae signalled that changes were afoot in how universities were to be financed, that historic funding would be replaced by formula funding.

A tall urbane man, Noble kept trim through golf, working his handicap down to two. It was said that one of the reasons for his appointment as principal at Aberdeen University was to legitimise the fact that in 1948, as a young lecturer, the Senate golf club quietly broke the rules by taking his playing talents on board.

Sir Fraser Noble received honorary degrees from the universities of Aberdeen, Leicester and Glasgow, and Washington College, Maryland. He generously gave of his time on leading UK educational bodies, and he took active roles in these. He was knighted in 1971.

Sir Fraser Noble regarded himself as a son of Nairn. Though not born there, he went to school there, he met his wife, Barbara, when she taught maths at Nairn Academy, he retired there, and he was a long-time member of Nairn Golf Club. He died there after a short illness. He is survived by Barbara (nee Sinclair), his wife of 58 years, and children Simon and Hilary.