Professor Frank Lees


Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Graduates and Friends

We honour today a true scholar, an accomplished teacher, an outstanding researcher and a foremost chemical engineer.

Frank Lees was born in Hexham, Northumbria, where his father, Herbert Lees, was Manager of the Hexham Gas Company and indeed his grandfather and uncle also held prominent positions in the Company during the period before nationalisation of the industry. Frank spent his childhood years in Hexham and was often taken to the gas works by his father, usually after Church on Sunday. This early experience aroused his awareness of industrial technology and its importance to the welfare of our nation. Nevertheless, his years at boarding school developed a broad educational base and he ultimately entered Trinity College, Oxford on an open scholarship to read modern languages, specialising in Russian and German.

On graduation from Oxford, Frank was eager to enter gainful industrial employment, which in the 1950's was possible for all bright Oxford graduates - even those possessing a degree in modern languages. He decided to work as a Management Trainee for the Guest Keen Iron and Steel Company in Cardiff - a job he says he greatly enjoyed. However, he soon realised that if he was going to progress in a technological career, then it was necessary to obtain appropriate qualifications. In his spare time, he studied A-level Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry and passed the examinations with flying colours at the first attempt. In 1956 he moved to ICI and started work as an Experimental Officer in the Central Instrument Research Laboratory at Pangbourne. On his first day, he was given an avalanche of computer printout by A.J. Young, his superior, and told to go away and confirm that the calculations were correct. This he did painstakingly in long hand using `log tables' and after a few hours was able to convince his superior that the calculations were absolutely correct. This so encouraged A.J. Young that the company immediately embarked on a campaign to introduce computer control on major ICI plant installations. You might say that Frank Lees was inspirational in the adoption of computer systems in ICI. Our Chemical Engineering graduates will realise the significance and importance of this pioneering work for the chemical process industries of today.

Frank soon realised that if he was to make progress in the chemical industry, then a qualification in Chemical Engineering was essential. He took part-time classes at West Ham College of Technology - usually travelling up by day from Pangbourne and taking some day- and night-time lectures. After two years of part-time study at West Ham he enrolled as a full-time student at Imperial College, London and after another year obtained a First Class Honours degree in Chemical Engineering from London University. By this time he was 28 and arguably a late starter into the profession. He remained at ICI, working as a mainstream Chemical Engineer involved in plant design, operation and control for a further six and a half years.

Professor Don Freshwater had the vision to appoint Frank Lees as a Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Loughborough in 1967. From that moment onwards, a glittering academic and professional career unfolded. He rapidly submitted a PhD thesis based on his work at ICI and then embarked on a field of endeavour that was truly pioneering in a British university - the study of Safety and Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, especially the underlying factors affecting man(or should I say person)/computer interactions in the control of large scale chemical plants. He was promoted to Professor of Plant Engineering at Loughborough in 1974 - a memorable year for him and for the country since it virtually coincided with the disastrous Flixborough accident. In the aftermath of this devastating technological failure, Frank was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Major Hazards and Chaired the Working Group concerned with engineering measures necessary to prevent such an event recurring. Subsequently he was also a Member of the Health and Safety Commission's Standing Advisory Committee on Dangerous Substances and a Member of The Institution of Chemical Engineers Safety, Health and Environmental Policy Committee.

It was therefore, not surprising that a man of such distinction should be called upon by the Lord Cullen to act as an Assessor for the Piper Alpha Inquiry which took place from 1989-1990. Professor Lees performed a pivotal role at the Inquiry sifting through the monumental technical evidence offered, in an attempt to find an explanation for this dreadful disaster. He was required to evaluate and advise on the evidence and ultimately to assist in the preparation of the Final Report. The published Report is a landmark document and now serves to regulate safety and reliabilty for the offshore oil and gas industry.

His scholarly pursuits have culminated in the publication of a world renowned and professionally acclaimed book entitled Loss Prevention in the Process Industries. The second edition of the book, published in 1996, runs out into 3 substantial volumes and about 3000 pages. It is truly a `magnus opus' unrivalled in the technological literature and will act as a keynote publication for practitioners into the next millenium.

Professor Lees has been heaped with awards and medals for his academic and professional contributions to Chemical Engineering. He was awarded the Beilby Medal of The Institution of Chemical Engineers, Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Metals in 1972; the Senior Moulton Medal of The Institution of Chemical Engineers on two separate occasions and the Brennan Medal for his published works. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1985.

Despite a lifetime of contribution to the profession of Chemical Engineering, Frank Lees has always found time to help in the wider community in Loughborough, serving the aged and infirm and latterly as a Magistrate on the Loughborough Bench.

There is a quotation* in the preface to Frank's book that is so apt on this occasion - it reads in German as follows:

"Wo einer kommt and saget an

Er hat es allen recht getan

So bitten wir diesen lieben Herrn

Er soll uns solche Kunste auch lern"

Whoever is able to say to us

I have done everything right

we beg that honest gentleman

to show us how it is done"

Our Honorary Graduand is such an "honest gentleman" and we his disciples in the profession, have all benefitted and learnt from his modesty, his wisdom and his work.

* Quoted by Prince BMH von Bulow in Memoirs, 1932, and to be found on the Zwischenbau adjoining the Rathaus in Brandenburg-on-the-Haren.

Therefore, Mr Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you, and to the whole University, Frank Pearson Lees for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


[ Lboro Home] | [Publicity Office]

J.Allen2@lboro.ac.uk, July 1998.
Copyright © Loughborough University. All rights reserved.