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Archie Roy

Professor of astronomy and paranormal investigator;

Born: June 24, 1924; Died: December 27, 2012.

Professor Archie Roy, who has died aged 88, was an astronomer who became a leading figure in the scientific research of pyschical phenomena and the paranormal. He would never state definitively that there was life after death but he was fond of saying: "If, when I die, I find that I have not survived, I'll be very surprised."

Born in Yoker, Glasgow, the son of a draftsman at John Brown's shipyard, he originally wanted to be an architect. While in hospital with TB as a teenager, he discovered an interest in astronomy while staring out of the window from his bed. He started reading books on the subject and decided to switch subjects.

Graduating from Glasgow University with a BSc in 1950, he started teaching science at Shawlands Academy, and in the holidays pursued research in the university's astronomy department.

When the department wrote to him in 1958 to intimate that an academic post was about to be advertised, and inviting him to apply, he was in hospital, immobile on his back with a slipped disc. The determination he was to exhibit through his life, whether it was the pursuit of heavenly bodies or earth-bound spirits, was manifest even then when the crippled candidate rose from his bed and hobbled into university for his interview. He got the post.

As a student he was browsing in the university library when he came across a shelf of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), and for the rest of his life the paranormal would obsess him, whether holding court in the Rubaiyat as he discussed Frederic Myers's difficult magnum opus Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, or roaming through an allegedly haunted house on the outskirts of Glasgow. He founded the Scottish Society for Psychical Research, based on the SPR, in 1987.

In 1966 he was made senior lecturer in astronomy at Glasgow University; reader in 1973; and a professor in 1977. In the 1960s he was a consultant to Nasa when it was working on the mission to the moon.

The idea of retirement filled him with revulsion, for his studies into the paranormal had convinced him we need to go on developing to the moment of our death, in preparation for the life to come. Until two years ago he was still contributing to evening classes in pyschical research at Glasgow University.

His memberships included the International Astronomical Union; Royal Astronomical Society (fellow); British Interplanetary Society (fellow); Society for Psychical Research (member of council); Brain Research Association; and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (fellow).

How did he find time for all his interests in a day that began with him leaving his flat in Highburgh Road for the quarter of a mile walk to the university?

In the evenings he and his colleague Trish Robertson mounted scientifically controlled trials into extra-sensory perception. At other times they would go to investigate a haunted building, with Prof Roy turning up his hearing aid to try to pick up a signal from those who appeared to have become trapped between this world and the next.

He was convinced his friend Albert Best, the Glasgow-based psychic, had genuine powers and wrote about him in A Sense of Something Strange, published in 1990. He took a friend to visit Mr Best, who claimed the friend's father was present.

Mr Best told Prof Roy's friend: "Your father is dead, your mother is still alive. You have one brother but no sisters. Your father was connected with the law. He died suddenly. His strongest drink was milk and it was a bit of a joke in the family. He had two watches. One is still in the family house, the other, a wristlet watch, has had a new watch strap put on during the past week. I see you with a lot of other people. You are writing, scribbling away. But you're not a novelist."

Prof Roy recalled: "Afterwards, my friend, who is a journalist and whose father was a police superintendent, confirmed every fact was correct, even to the watch which she happened to be wearing; it had belonged to her father and she had put a new strap on it the week previously."

How was it done? Did Mr Best "read" his visitor's mind, or was he somehow in touch with his visitor's deceased father? This is one of the questions examined in another of his books, The Archives of the Mind (1996), which continues the pattern of A Sense of Something Strange by narrating instances of possession, obsession, apparitions, reincarnation and other enigmatic aspects of human personality.

Prof Roy was the author of more than 30 books on astronomy and the paranormal, and also fiction. He had an asteroid, 5806 Archieroy, named after him, which assures him immortality.

Into his 80s, the Emeritus Professor was going to the gym for work-outs several mornings a week and keeping an eye on the heavens. He died, having used his intellectual gifts to the full, and giving his friends, colleagues and readers much pleasure and stimulation through his formidable erudition.

He is survived by his wife Frances, his sister Christine and his three sons: psychologist Archie, designer and film-maker Ian, and drama teacher David.

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