Degree Speeches

 Summer 2000


Professor Frederick Hales, FREng

Public Orator, Professor Jim Miller, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on Friday 14 July 2000 at 10.30am

Chancellor. The pace of change in universities in recent years has been so great that a student who graduated from Loughborough in the late 1980s and returned to the campus now for the first time would scarcely recognise it. At least twice as many students, new and extended halls of residence, and several other major new buildings, academic, administrative and social, have altered our outward appearance almost beyond recognition. The one thing that has not altered is the absolute requirement for high quality staff at all levels, and resolute and flexible leadership. Today we honour a colleague whose qualities of leadership at a seminal moment in the University's history were outstanding, and whose efforts at that time were crucial to our success, and thus to all those great changes that have occurred in the last decade.

Frederick David Hales was born in Bristol and graduated from that University in Mathematics. For the whole of his distinguished career he has applied his mathematical skills to engineering problems, starting with his work as an aerodynamicist at the then British Aircraft Ltd. Much of this early work was on twin-rotor helicopters. In 1960 he came back to earth by moving as a Research Group Head at the Motor Industries Research Association. This was when computers - first analog ones, then digital ones - became available to the mathematician's armoury of simulation and modelling methods. In the many reports and papers that Fred published at this period the ride and handling properties of big vehicles feature strongly. In 1967 he went to the USA for a year, as a Visiting Scientist at the prestigious Stevens Institute in New Jersey. Having thus acquired experience of academic life (and also a Ph.D., again from Bristol) he came to Loughborough in 1968 as Professor of Surface Transport. He added trains and boat sails to his areas of interest and later he became a member of the Technical Advisory Panel of the Ford Motor Company, thereby facilitating those University links with Ford which have become so strong recently.

In 1983 Professor Hales became one of our Pro-Vice-Chancellors, and in 1985 he became Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor. He thus had a central role in the development of the University Plan, which under the leadership of our then new VC, Professor John Phillips, was due for completion early in 1987. At that time, very significant cuts in government spending on higher education were proposed, so the Loughborough plan was inevitably intensely controversial. At the very pinnacle of this crisis, when the plan had been drafted but still awaited full discussion in the University's senior committees, Professor Phillips died suddenly, and Professor Hales became Acting Vice-Chancellor in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Even after thirteen years it is very hard to think of those days without a tremor of emotion - but Fred Hales never for one moment wavered. "Cometh the hour, cometh the man" indeed. With calmness and objectivity, allied at several crucial moments to a steely determination, he piloted the plan through to its final acceptance, and activated many of its proposals, remaining as Acting VC until Professor Davies arrived a year later. During this period it was Fred's transparent fairness and level-headedness which allowed the University to continue its progress. It was by no means a period of inactivity. This was when our immensely successful Department of Mathematical Sciences moved towards its present form. And in the Chemistry Department we think of Fred Hales as the man who let the builders in: his period in office marked the start of the complete refurbishment of the outside and inside of our building which has continued until quite recently. In 1990 the government's policy on higher education was [again] reversed entirely, and strong expansion became the order of the day. But Loughborough would certainly not have been in a position to exploit that new situation had our basic academic and financial positions not been entirely sound.

Before retiring in 1993, Fred Hales found time to add to his services to the University as Dean of Engineering. In 1990 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a distinction that recognises his fine research work. And he has always been a man of broad interests. He paints, draws, and photographs, plays bridge and - above all - enjoys sailing his boat with his wife Pamela, who we are delighted to see here today with their family. Perhaps it is in that past-time of sailing that his secret of calm determination lies. When you have faced all the elements in a small boat, the squalls in the Council or Senate of the University are, well, placed in their proper perspective!

Therefore, Chancellor, it is my delight and honour to present to you and to the whole University Professor Frederick David Hales, distinguished engineer and pivotal contributor to the development of our institution, for the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


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