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Dr Stuart Turnbull (1939-2022)

2 March 2022

Dr Stuart Turnbull

Stuart R Turnbull (6 April 1939-22 February 2022)

BSc, PhD Newc, MA Oxon

It is with sadness that the Master and Fellows of St Peter’s College Oxford announce the death of our Emeritus Fellow Dr Stuart R Turnbull on 22 February 2022.

Stuart’s contribution to St Peter’s College was significant. The Robin Herd Fellow in Engineering Science from 1987 to 2007, he contributed to the life and work of the College not only through the generations of students whom he taught, but also to the larger workings of the College through his periods as Senior Dean, Senior Tutor, Tutor for Undergraduates and Vice-Master.

He is remembered with admiration and warmth by his former colleagues and students as being deeply committed to the community at St Peter’s College and to its students.

Tom Adcock, former student and Fellow and Tutor in Engineering Science at St Peter’s College, shares this remembrance:

‘Stuart was my tutor throughout my undergraduate days at St Peter’s and was later a colleague when I succeeded him as Fellow in Engineering Science. Stuart was a wonderful communicator of engineering ideas. His unusual background for an Oxford academic (going to work at 14 rather than staying on in education) gave him an alternative way of looking at the world that enriched students’ understanding and enabled them to see more deeply into problems. I still draw directly on his explanations in tutorials with my students. Stuart had a wry sense of humour and his own way of looking at the world. I recall him congratulating a student who had achieved a 40, a 41 and a 43 in the exam retakes (40 being a pass) on their sound "engineering judgement" in doing exactly enough work and not too much. Stuart was very proud of being an engineer and had a healthy, and not always silent, scepticism of those who had chosen a different path. In an engineering department that focuses on theory, he was a rare academic who understood the practicalities of his subject. It was well known that he was one of the very few academics in the department for whom those in the machine shop had respect. He will be missed by the generations of students he educated.’

The below biography of Stuart is excerpted from the 2008 valedictory speech delivered by Emeritus Fellow Eric Southworth:

‘[…] Stuart was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 6 April 1939. He passed the next twenty-five years of his life living on the southernmost edge of Gateshead, an area still then surrounded by fields and derelict coal mines […] He failed the 11+, and went on from the local Board School to the local Secondary Modern, staying on an extra year until he was sixteen in order to take some O Levels. After school, in 1955, he started work as an apprentice draughtsman for a heavy-machine-tool company, simultaneously attending Technical College three times a week over a period of six years, winning each year a prize and a further year's scholarship. In 1959 he was awarded a Whitworth Society Prize for having come top in the country in the Ordinary National Certificate Examinations. Two years later he obtained the Higher National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering, equivalent in those days to an ordinary degree.

‘[…] there was something of a mixture of play with developing serious interests at this period, as he bought first a motor bicycle, taking it apart to find out how it worked and travelling all over the country on it, and purchased next a car, with which, together with a propensity for collecting speeding fines, began another life-long interest of his: the design of the internal combustion engine.

‘That's not been all, of course: there has also subsequently and over many years been his work on the design of bigger machines, and the distribution of loads on cargo ships and ferries. Stuart is a scientist with a breadth and depth of practical experience outside the laboratory. He sees Engineering as an art as well as a science; he believes in what experience suggests, feeding what are sometimes intuitive judgements about what will and will not work. He is proud to reflect on the useful applications of his research. 'Useful' is an understatement, when one thinks of how his work on the safety of ferries has led to lives being saved.

‘[…] Stuart was in his early twenties when his life began to flourish in another deeply serious sense because one of the female members of his rugby club set up a blind date for him. He met Kathleen. In 1964 they married. Kathleen saw he could and should go further academically; she encouraged him to study for a degree; and a year after they had married, at the age of 26, he started reading Mechanical Engineering at Newcastle University. The year before his Finals, Sarah [his daughter] was born, and Stuart sat those examinations whilst looking after both his new daughter and his wife. He came second out of his whole year. His next move was to work for Vickers as a senior project engineer in their research and development office, but the academic bug had bitten deep. In 1969 he left industry, and encouraged by a neighbour who taught Spanish at the University, he embarked upon his Newcastle PhD. (A happy time, he comments.) Such was his evident distinction that he was appointed to a lectureship at the new University of Lancaster, having applied for the post at a friend's suggestion […] His PhD was awarded in 1974, his son Michael having been born the previous year […]

‘Stuart's fifteen years in Lancaster were another happy period in his life. He might cheerfully have stayed there. But another friend saw an advertisement for an Engineering post in Oxford, and suggested he apply. We might wonder if the friend in question had perhaps caught sight of a questionnaire that Stuart, earlier, had completed for his department. Asked by one of those appraisal forms where the sights of his career were set, rather than declaring an aspiration to become Head of some major academic unit or department, he had replied that he liked the idea of being a tutorial fellow of an Oxford College. Happily for us, he did apply.’

There will be a memorial for Dr Turnbull in College next academic year, the details of which will be announced on our events page in due course. The College flag is flying at half-mast.