Born: November 14, 1935;

Died: January 4, 2021.

PROFESSOR Alex Forrester BSc (H-W), PhD, DSc (Aberd), FRSE, FRSC, C.Chem, OBE, who has died aged 85, was a distinguished chemist and vice-principal of Aberdeen University, who started his working life as a professional footballer.

Born in Fife, he spent his early years in Alloa, where he attended Alloa Academy before going on to Stirling High School when the family moved to Bridge of Allan. A natural at any ball game, he devoted his winters to football and his summers to cricket.

After leaving school he joined Sauchie Juniors, which that year won the Scottish Junior Cup, then signed as a professional with Third Lanark. On the cricket field he became a regular for Clackmannanshire, going on to win the Scottish County Championship.

After briefly working as a laboratory technician with the Distillers Company he enrolled at the then Heriot Watt College, graduating with a BSc in Chemistry in 1958. His ability to combine the demands of his degree course in Edinburgh with the pressures of his ongoing football career in the West of Scotland was an early demonstration of his formidable time-management skills.

After graduation, and while still playing football, by now for Partick Thistle, he moved to Paisley Tech as a chemistry lecturer, before deciding to pursue a PhD in organic chemistry. This brought him to Aberdeen in 1960, at which point his professional football career ended, though he played amateur local football for many years. He also became a well-established regular in the Aberdeenshire cricket team, even appearing as 12th man when Scotland played Australia at Mannofield in 1964.

After completing his PhD in 1963 he joined the Aberdeen University staff as an assistant lecturer in organic chemistry, rising steadily to become the senior professor and head of the chemistry department in 1987. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science in 1976 and elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1982. A change of direction to senior management followed when he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering in 1989, combining this with the post of Vice Principal (Science) in 1990.

His final position was as Vice Principal for the development and commercialisation of the University’s research base. In this post and as Chairman of AURIS, the University’s development and spin-out company, he was instrumental in greatly enhancing the University’s external profile. He was awarded the OBE for services to science and education in 1997.

His principal research interests were in the fields of free radical chemistry, reactive intermediates, ESR spectroscopy and radiation chemistry, leading to an output of over 120 research papers and three books. He gave numerous plenary and invited lectures in the UK, Europe and occasionally further afield.

All of this derived from a ferocious work ethic. For many years he would take his children Stephanie and Gregor, both talented swimmers, to very early morning training sessions and then go straight to the department, being at his desk by 6am.

He used these early-morning sessions to leave notes on colleagues’ desks to greet them on arrival – a habit which did not meet with universal approbation. These early starts did not mean early departures – his light stayed on as long as the others. At one point when the university was having one of its periodic economy drives it was suggested the electricity bill could be considerably reduced if Prof Forrester could be persuaded to work from home.

He expected students, and particularly his research students, to work hard, and he pushed them on. As a result, all 27 of his PhD students, plus four MSc students, graduated successfully, many going on to highly successful careers. His support was never ostentatious, but more than one wavering student was sustained in difficult times and quietly shepherded through to graduation.

His friendship, once gained, was permanent. Unlike some habitual hard workers he knew how to switch off and he had a lively if occasionally acerbic sense of humour: his only advice to at least one of his successors as head of department was to “make sure you have a good spy system”.

In his later years, after a hip replacement, and following a heart attack and triple bypass, he continued to play golf. His other major interest in these years was in the Aberdeen Grammar FP rugby club; he was eventually elected as club president.

When diagnosed with developing vascular dementia in 2015, he tackled it in typically forthright fashion, contacting friends and former colleagues to warn them what to expect. With the dedicated support of his wife Myrna he remained as active as he could for as long as possible. Following the apparent onset of Parkinson’s disease in 2018, a move to full-time care eventually became unavoidable.

The whole of Prof Forrester’s career was built on the foundation of a secure and supportive family life. He and Myrna first met at a dance in Stirling’s Golden Lion Hotel, and they were married in Stirling in 1961. He took great pride in their four children, Deborah, Melanie, Stephanie and Gregor. In addition to his adult grandchildren Ross and Rebecca, his youngest grandson Lauchlan was born in March 2020.

Geoff McQuillan