9 April 1926 - 9 February 2014
Sir Graham Hills, known as "GJ" to many of his colleagues, died earlier this month. His early career took him from Westcliffe High School near Southend-on-Sea via Birkbeck and Imperial College to the Chair of Physical Chemistry at Southampton University in 1962, where he remained until 1980. His 18 years at Southampton saw the expansion of the Electrochemistry group to become a leading centre in Europe, attracting many visitors from overseas and remaining at the forefront of international research. His subsequent move to Strathclyde came at a time when government cuts were beginning to bite deep into university budgets, and these were challenging times. Sir Graham saw Strathclyde through this difficult phase into an era of expansion that still continues. Knighted in 1988 for his services to education, Sir Graham used his retirement to push for the establishment of a University of the Highlands and Islands, a cause dear to his heart.
As one of Graham's PhD students (from 1966-1969), I grew to respect and like him as a "renaissance man" with a deeply civilized nature who recognized the importance and richness of life outside the ivory tower. He had the knack of making you feel at ease whilst still challenging you with difficult, often philosophical, questions. As Head of Physical Chemistry, he created a unique atmosphere in which students felt part of the international upsurge of research in electrochemistry, and as a young research student, it was a great experience to sit in seminars with Ernest Yeager and John Randles in the audience - both spending sabbaticals at Southampton at the same time. As a man of action, Graham was a consummate politician with a clear vision who taught me - and I suspect many of his other students and colleagues - how to deal with difficult and challenging issues. His powers of persuasion were formidable but always exercised with extraordinary charm and grace, underpinned by an impish sense of humour. Many of his colleagues never quite understood quite why they finished up agreeing with whatever he was proposing.
I am sure that I speak on behalf of all of those who were his PhD students, postdocs and academic colleagues over the years when I say that "GJ" will be remembered with great affection as a formative influence on our lives. He will be greatly missed.
Written by Laurence Peter, March 2014