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Sir Alwyn Williams FRS, 1921-2004

With a major work not quite completed, Alwyn Williams died on 4 April 2004 aged 82. This huge opus on brachiopod classification was the last in a line of seminal publications which, taken together, opened new areas of thinking in brachiopods and the geology of the Ordovician, his main geological interest. Born in 1921 in Aberdare, South Wales, he attended Aberdare Grammar School and then graduated with a first in Geology and took a PhD at University College, Aberyswyth. He was for two years Harkness Fellow at the Smithsonian, Washington, then from 1950-54, lecturer at the University of Glasgow. He took up the Chair of Geology at Queens University, Belfast at 32, where, in addition to his continued research and other departmental duties, was Pro Vice-chancellor for seven years.

In 1974 he was appointed to the Lapworth Chair at the University of Birmingham, but could not resist the offer of becoming Regius Principal at the University of Glasgow. In 1967 he was elected to the Royal Society of London and became a Fellow of all three home Royal Societies. He was knighted in 1983, and received honorary degrees from the universities of Wales, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford, Strathclyde and Paisley. He won the Bigsby, Murchison, Clough, T N George and Lapworth medals. He was Honorary Fellow of the Geological Society of America.

Dedication to his work, focus, energy, discipline, tenacity and a powerful intellect remained with him until his death. These gifts, which he had in abundance, shone through wherever he went: all who had contact with him were left with a sense of his powerful intellectual presence. He took over as Principal at Glasgow at a time when the funding of universities was radically changing and when a different set of demands was made on their staff. In response, and with considerable foresight, he set the University on a course where existing scholarship and academic discipline was combined with a more intensive, directed and vigorous research, now the basis for the modern University. Alwyn found it difficult not to lead from the front. Despite his administrative loads and his work on many committees outside the University, he continued to research and teach in the Geology Department during his time as Principal; publishing 20 refereed papers and holding three NERC grants - a fact he was quick to point out to others who were trailing in their research efforts despite being free of his huge administrative duties.

He had a great love of geology; enjoying it from fieldwork to SEM, its characters, and the controversies they created. When Principal, he closely supervised his postdocs in the Department, often for an hour beginning at 0730 and for many mornings of the week. During the Easter Vacation, when teaching at Belfast, he would lead field excursions to Girvan, an area he had mapped in the most meticulous way to reveal a complex history not remotely contemplated by those who had gone before. Here, in the use of palaeontology, structure and stratigraphy to rationalise the meaning of a piece of ground, he laid down a new standard. Even as Principal he had thought of leading, once again, an extended undergraduate field excursion to Girvan. Occasionally, under an unimaginable load of administration (and one sensed partly out of frustration), he would phone up and suggest an afternoon in the field, generally along the Highland Boundary Fault where he would diligently search for fossils.

After retiring as Principal in 1988, he continued to research; being supported by 3 further NERC research grants, as well as other bodies. During this time, despite failing eyesight, he contributed more than 20 publications and was deeply committed to the revised brachiopod volumes of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology sponsored by the Geological Society of America and the University of Kansas. This involved collating work from over 40 authors, from around the world and (in keeping with all else) making sure that everything appeared on time.

The Horatian phrase non omnis moriar is so appropriate to Alwyn, and not just through the wonderful body of work he leaves behind him, but through those attributes which make up men of his type. He leaves past students, colleagues and others carrying those attributes forward and who will remain ever grateful to him for his example, loyalty to them, good counsel and guidance. This extends to current captain of the Scottish rugby team who in a recent interview, thanked Alwyn for setting him on his career path!

He is survived by his wife Joan (who, with him, hosted memorable social occasions), a son Gareth & daughter Siân.

Brian J Bluck