Obituary: Stuart Laing, eminent and highly-motivated analytical research chemist

Dr Stuart Bruce Laing, B.SC, PHD, C.CHEM, MRIC, BA died on Sunday 4 June 2017, in Bedford hospital from the chemotherapy treatments after a four-year battle against the disease.

Stuart Bruce Laing
Stuart Bruce Laing

Stuart had Scottish and English life, full of colour and long-lasting friendships. He was an eminent and highly-motivated analytical research chemist. Employed by Glaxo Labs Ltd, in Greenford Middlesex; from 1967–1995; (this would later become the pharmaceuticals giant, GSK). From October 1967 to May 1983 he pottered in Medicinal Chemistry, synthesising progestational steroids and with his fellow scientists. Launched in 1987 Cefuroxime axetil, an antibiotic drug which by then had been used by over 25 million patients worldwide was invented and produced by GGR staff, which included Stuart; gaining for Glaxo the prestigious Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement. Stuart published and patented 15 new drugs in association with his colleagues, for which has been credited for inventing.

Stuart was born in Edinburgh in 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, to Cecil Roberts Laing and Kate Bruce Hutchison, who lived at 40 Liberton Gardens. His father was a grocer and throughout the war years was in the Home Guard. During the 1950s, Stuart caught polio and had to wear an iron lung. This was a device which meant he couldn’t take part in most of the team sports in his teenage years. The Laing family visited North Berwick for their annual summer holiday and it was here that Stuart discovered a passion for swimming. Deep sea diving below the waves became Stuart’s greatest love, so much so he built his own underwater camera-unit, so he could record the sea urchins and life that inhabited these Scottish shores.

Stuart attended Melville College in Edinburgh from 1947-1960 and started long friendships with Fraser Stoddard (now knighted, a Nobel Prize winner), and Dereck Sutherland who would join him at Glaxo in later years. Stuart joined the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) while at Melville College that taught him, discipline and leadership skills which became the foundation for his inquisitive and inventive mind. Stuart loved all things to do with the military, from the swagger of marching bands playing their retreat at the Edinburgh Festival, to being on exercises in the Highlands with the CCF, and in retirement, he would be associated with the Intelligence Corp at RAF Chicksands, as a member of the Friends of Chicksands Priory, tour guide and their Treasurer.

He studied chemistry at Edinburgh University from 1964 -1967 was awarded with a Honours 2:1 BSc and furthering his studies with a University Demonstratorship 1964-66 together with a Research Studentship, meaning he gained his PhD: Rearrangements of Unsaturated Steroids Alcohols. In 1967 he became a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry as a chartered chemist. So the doors opened for him to begin his illustrious and analytical research with Glaxo Labs Ltd, in Greenford, Middlesex.

He established and provided a chromatography service to Medical Chemistry, including preparative chromatography and chiral separations, both analytical and preparative. He became the Chairperson 1991-93 RSC, Analytical Division, on Chromatography and Electrophoresis Group. Another Chairpersonship was offered for the Capillary Electrophoresis sessions meetings of the Federation of Analytical and Spectroscopic Societies, 1993 (Detroit). Ending his days with GlaxoSmithKline as Principal Research Analyst, when sadly due to reorganisation of this ever expanding company, he was given a very lucrative retirement package, in September 1995.

It was in the autumn of 1979 that Stuart was on a backstage tour and I was high up on a scenic paint bridge, painting a theatrical backdrop. Some paint fell accidently (it was well-aimed); I assisted in cleaning his leather jacket and a 38-year friendship began. Stuart enjoyed all forms of the Arts both in Scotland and London, being a regular opera and concert buff. Our companionship for the Royal Academy of Art’s summer exhibitions, photography and especially two-wheel sports; road-racing, scrambles and biker groups ride-outs had us both criss-crossing the UK to biker-friendly watering holes.

As a gentleman of leisure, Stuart continued to dabble in the scientific firmament as a freelance contributor to various dictionaries of Organic Compounds for Chapman & Hall Limited. It was during this downtime period Stuart had a hankering for researching his own family tree, and so began his legacy of 500 box files: The Laing, Marshall, Charlton, Hutchison, Stark, Ottwell, Edwards, Veitch, Karnovsky, Bernstein & Heymanson, Karpay, Morton and Brownlie, Davidson in Fordyce, Reubens, families etc. have all been thoroughly researched.