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Dr Peter Clarke

Chemist and college principal;

Born: March 18, 1922; Died: October 26, 2012.

Peter Clarke, who has died aged 90, was a principal of Aberdeen's Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology (RGIT), an institution he changed beyond recognition. He recognised the huge opportunities thrown up by the burgeoning North Sea energy industry and during the Second World War worked at a secret onshore oil production project, underneath Sherwood Forest, which provided thousands of barrels of oil vital for the war effort.

Dr Clarke was given his first taste of management while serving in a wartime munitions factory in the Borders. At the age of just 21 he was deployed as shift superintendent, in charge of a workforce of 300 women and 60 men, turning out incendiary bombs at a shadow factory near St Boswells.

He had only recently graduated and had been a trainee with ICI Explosives Group at Ardeer in Ayrshire, for a mere two months. But, as with much of his career, he was in the right place at the right time and that early leadership responsibility stood him in good stead as he climbed the ladder.

Born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, he was raised during the Depression of the 1930s which saw his father unemployed and his mother, a primary teacher, become the main breadwinner, giving private tuition and running a drapery shop from their front room. He won a scholarship to grammar school but his impoverished family could not afford the uniform and he went to lessons wearing an aunt's old leather coat.

He hoped to become a chemistry teacher and graduated in 1942 from University College, Nottingham with a London University BSc degree in chemistry. But it was the middle of the Second World War and that summer he worked at the Eakring Oil Field, a secret onshore oil production project, underneath Sherwood Forest, which provided thousands of barrels of oil vital for the war effort. By September he had been directed to ICI Explosives Group. He ended the war as a trainee salesman with ICI Dyestuffs Group.

He then returned to Nottingham, gained a teaching certificate and achieved his aim in 1947, with a post as senior chemistry master at Buxton College. A couple of years later he moved to Huddersfield Technical College as lecturer in organic chemistry. In 1956 he became assistant chief chemist at British Enka Ltd before being promoted to chief chemist and then technical manager, by which time he had also been elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry.

The remainder of the 1960s saw him move up the ranks in academia. By the time he took up the post as head of RGIT in 1970 he had a potent blend of experience, having held senior positions in education and industry. As a result he was able to recognise, before others appreciated them, the opportunities of the North Sea energy industry.

Predicting considerable expansion in tertiary education, particularly in the vocational area, he exhorted his staff to ensure the institution met the challenge by providing new and innovative courses to fulfil the changing needs of industry and commerce. That foresight, he believed, probably allowed RGIT to gain a 10-year lead on its competitors.

He spent 15 years at the helm of the institution and was the guiding force that guaranteed that RGIT responded to the educational and training needs of the oil industry. By the time he retired in 1985, student numbers had doubled and the institute's reputation had grown considerably. He had laid the foundations for it to achieve university status, which it did in 1992 when it became The Robert Gordon University. His contribution is marked by the Clarke Building which houses the engineering school. Dr Clarke, who was made a CBE in 1983 and received numerous honorary awards in the education field, also served on many bodies, including as president of the UK Association of Principals of Colleges.

Leisure activities did not feature much in his busy life but, having been a keen jogger since childhood, he found time to run and completed his third Aberdeen marathon at the age of 63.

Married to his first wife Ethel in 1947, he nursed her at home in the months preceding her death in 1999. He is survived by his sons David and Robin, grandsons Chester and Roland, and his second wife, Marguerite, his former secretary, whom he married two years ago.

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