Emeritus professor of civil engineering;

Born January 22, 1920; Died December 20, 2011

Emeritus Professor Hugh Sutherland, who has died aged 91, was a distinguished civil engineer who became an internationally- renowned authority on soil mechanics.

Appointed a professor at Glasgow University in 1966, he was the first holder of the Cormack Chair of Civil Engineering and Dean of the Faculty at Gilmorehill. He held the post until his retirement in 1986.

During his career he developed an interest in geotechnical engineering and was in great demand as an expert in foundation engineering and soil mechanics. Indeed, he played a leading role in establishing Britain's first laboratory dedicated to the study of soil mechanics, an important sub-discipline of civil engineering which looks at the behaviour of soil in relation to constructions such as bridge foundations, pipelines and buildings.

Born in Glasgow, Hugh Brown Sutherland attended the city's Allen Glen's School from 1931 to 1936. Although more than qualified to go to university, the teenager chose instead to find a job. With the intention of becoming an actuary, he took up a junior post with the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company in Glasgow.

However, he soon discovered that the job involved little more than delivering letters to banks and insurance offices around the city all day. After three months, he left.

He then applied to Glasgow Corporation to become an indentured apprentice with the Master of Works and City Engineers, the council department responsible for road and bridge construction. He was successful, becoming the first apprentice the department had taken on in six years. Gaining valuable work experience during the day, he studied civil engineering at night classes at the city's Royal Technical College.

On the outbreak of war, he immediately volunteered for military service. However, at the time the minimum age stood at 18, and he was too young to join. Instead, he was told to attend the University Joint Recruitment Board and was seconded to London to work for Oscar Faber and Partners, a well known firm of structural engineers, where he worked on the design and construction of munitions factories across the country.

Later in the war, he was employed as an assistant intelligence officer before being dispatched back to Scotland to deliver lectures in engineering to students and Army cadets at Glasgow University.

In 1946, still in his twenties, he began to develop his interest in soil mechanics. At the time the most advanced studies into the subject were being carried out at Harvard University. Hugh Sutherland applied for – and received – a scholarship which allowed him to go there as a research student. Among the studies in which he was involved while at Harvard was the Panama Canal Research Project, an examination of the potential effects of a nuclear explosion in the Central American waterway.

While at Harvard he was invited to attend the 1947 Soils Conference in Ottawa, Canada. As a result of contacts he made there, he went on to work briefly as an advisor at Steep Rock Iron Mines in North West Ontario before returning to Scotland in 1948.

The following year, however, he was back in Canada, this time to assist in a study of vibration damage caused by trolley buses in Winnipeg. In an attempt to measure the vibrations, the young engineer took his equipment to the home of a woman who had complained to the local authority about damage to her property.

Thus, he was lying prone on the lady's carpet when her husband arrived home from work and asked bluntly: "What the hell are you doing on my floor?" To which Mr Sutherland replied: "Waiting for the next trolley bus."

His help in this project and, some years later, in a study of the Winnipeg Flood Diversion scheme, earned him the Freedom of the City.

Back at Glasgow University his academic career blossomed and in 1966 he became the first holder of the Cormack Chair and Dean of the Faculty of Civil Engineering.

On his retirement in 1986, he became a director of the University Trust and Emeritus Professor.

Throughout his career, Professor Sutherland received many prestigious awards but the one of which he was most proud was the OBE he received from the Queen in 2003 for services to education and engineering. He was a keen sportsman who played football at university (and played in the New England Soccer League when he was at Harvard). He was also a member of the West of Scotland Cricket Club and a past captain of Buchanan Castle Golf Club, Drymen.

Professor Sutherland, who died at home in Bearsden, is survived by his daughter Moira, who lives in Sydney, Australia, his son Hugh, who is in Singapore, two grandchildren and a great-grandson. His wife, Sheila, died two years ago.