I was born in Gateshead, (near Newcastle on Tyne) and spent my early childhood during the post WWII. With food and clothes being rationed, as a family of six, it was rather tough. Both my dad and mom were teachers. My dad was a Headmaster of a three-room school in a mining community. He taught the children aged 10 to 15 in one room while the other teacher Mrs. Musgrave taught the 5 to 9 year-olds in a second room. The third room was used for lunches, etc. The school had a caretaker Jenny who cooked the meals. The food came from the farmer next door. Two highlights of the year were joining my mom and dad on our annual summer “holiday”. My dad rented a bus, and we took all of the children from the school together with some parents to the seaside (Tynemouth or Whitley Bay) for the day. The second highlight was when we were able to join the school Christmas Party. My mom wrote the plays for the children. Everyone got a small present from my dad and mom. It always seemed to snow at Christmas. My dad’s family were miners and he was the first person in his family to go to University. He played the piano, and also organized and conducted community choirs, winning several prestigious choral competitions in the north of England. Music was his passion. My mother was also a teacher. She specialized in Art and Needlework. Her father was a well know artist in Durham, widely respected for his watercolour paintings. Her needlework skills were important in creating and maintaining my school “uniform”.
My elder brother George, had to put up with having a precocious “little” brother. While I could ace the maths he was much better at art. After graduating he went to Cromer as an art teacher. He is a gifted artist specializing in lithography. He is married to Jeannette, and they have three daughters all of whom are established in their careers with two also continuing the family involvement in art. Angela the elder of my two sisters followed in my mother’s footsteps, and after graduating from the same college went to teach in Stockton on Tees where she met David. They married and had two children who have both married and have their own children – all boys. My sister Christine, being the youngest of the four children, had the foresight to not bother with college or university, but instead worked in a bank and moved to Aberdeen where she met Nigel. They moved to Pentyrch near Cardiff with their cats.
My early school years were a mixture of football (soccer), scouts, and studying. While art was one of my favourite subjects, I decided that Sciences were more fascinating. After completing the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level, passing in 10 subjects and the Advanced level in Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics, at Blaydon Grammar School, I decided to study at my dad’s alma mater – now known as the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. It was then still part of Durham University. There I studied science, specializing in Chemistry. After graduating, Professor Norman Greenwood offered me a place to study the chemistry of organotin compounds, using a brand new technique known as Mossbauer Spectroscopy. It was fascinating. Just three months later my work on interpreting Mossbauer spectra in terms of the hexacoordinate organotin compounds was submitted for publication. Little did I know it, but this choice was to have major influences on my life. I wrote to Dr. R. C. (Bob) Poller, at Queen Elizabeth College and he offered me a position to build a Mossbauer Spectrometer and study organotin compounds. These compounds had several uses as biocides. By the time I completed my PhD I had published another 7 papers. More importantly I had met my wife Jane who was studying food science. While presenting a paper on organotin Mossbauer spectroscopy at a meeting in Cambridge I met Professor John Sams who invited me to join his group at UBC. Here I was tasked with getting his Mossbauer Spectrometer running to study Antimony compounds. In 1972 I headed back to England to marry Jane and we both returned to UBC, where Jane began a PhD in Food Science. By 1977 John and I had published 17 papers including some of the first papers confirming the “Additive Model for the Electric Field Gradient at Antimony in Some Pentaco-ordinate Organoantimony (V) Derivatives” and the “Verification of the -1:2 Quadrupole Coupling Constant Ratio in Cis and Trans-Octahedral Diorganoantimony (V) Complexes”.
Clearly, I was enjoying my research. I had long recognized that one thing I lacked was industrial experience. So in 1974 I offered to collaborate with the biggest forestry company in Canada, at that time - MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. A year later I was telephoned one day and offered a position in their Wood Preservation group. In 1974 I joined the American Wood Preservers’ Association. I began a research collaboration with Dr. Roger Smith, at what was then the Western Forest Products Laboratory (WFPL). In 1975 Roger sponsored me to become a member of IRG. In 1976 he invited me to join his research team heading up the wood preservation chemistry research. It was here under Roger’s guidance I studied the chemistry of wood and its decay. He was a brilliant mentor. Roger taught me so many things, including research should be fun, and the importance of creating a network of international colleagues to stimulate new ideas.
The year 1979 was an important one for me. Over coffee one day I happened to comment to Roger on the need in Canada for a Wood Preservation Association (CWPA). He agreed, as he had also been thinking that there was a real need for such an association. So, we talked to the industry and in November the inaugural meeting of the CWPA was held in the Hotel Vancouver. The first Annual meeting was held the following year in 1980 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, in Montreal. In 2019 the 40th Annual Meeting was held in Toronto.
However, in 1979 our world at the WFPL was turned upside down. The Federal Government decided to embark on a plan to convert their two Forest Product laboratories into private enterprises, funded jointly by industry, and the Provincial and Federal Governments. It is possible that this had been stimulated by the efforts of the scientists at the laboratory to explore alternative funding strategies. The driver for this was that the funding for the laboratory was limited. If we found alternative sources of funding from industry, then our funding from the Federal Government would be reduced by the amount of other funding secured. We had hoped to use the additional funds to upgrade our relatively poor scientific equipment with such as a new FTIR, and an nmr spectrometer. In 1979 Forintek came into being. Roger’s group was very successful. We had major contracts particularly with the pole industry. I established a field test site at Westham Island, where we soon had poles, posts, shakes, plywood and regular stakes from over 30 different treatments. Key support staff that I was involved in hiring, Tony Byrne, Dave Minchin, and Janet Ingram, have gone on to be long time researchers at Forintek (now known as FPInnovations). By the mid-1980’s it was clear we needed additional resources in mycological research. Roger asked me to review potential young researchers who attend IRG. The criteria were simple. The researcher must be first rate, must be competent with the stresses of contract research, and must be willing to relocate to Vancouver. I quickly identified Dr. Paul Morris. We flew him out to Vancouver with his wife Rae in early November. During dinner at the Salmon House overlooking Vancouver, Rae asked what the winters were like. We reassured her that they were very mild, with usually a week of snow in January being typical. Dinner proceeded when I happened to look up to see a snow flake descend slowly past the window. Then another. A blizzard soon followed. It was so bad that I ordered a taxi to take them back to their hotel. Dr. John Butcher happened to be the keynote speaker at the CWPA that year so he was also in Vancouver. We chatted after Paul and Rae had gone and he bet me a case of beer that Paul would not join our research team. I never did get my beer! But our group did get a world class researcher in Paul.
In 1987 I had been considering for some time how to provide more comprehensive research support in wood preservation. I had delivered some guest lectures at UBC which had been well received. It was clear we needed to develop a graduate program at UBC. I identified a new University-Industry program that had just been created and approached several industry members to see if they were interested. I also took care to ensure the focus of the research would be on the chemistry of wood preservatives and so would nicely complement the research being done at Forintek. In 1987 the UBC-NSERC Chair in Wood preservation was formed. It was one of the first Industrial Research Chairs at UBC. Soon applications from potential students flowed. I have been very privileged and proud to have many excellent graduate students during the last 25 years. I have also enjoyed the support and friendship of Dr. Koichi Yamamoto and Dr. Andrzej Kundzewicz, as visiting researchers, and Dr. Futong Cui, (the late) Dr. Adam McBain, and Dr. Hang Tang as Post-Doctoral Fellows.
The wood preserving industry supported my research program for over 25 years, for which I am very grateful. With the support of Koppers Performance Chemicals and with the cooperation of Professor Pierre Kennepohl, we were able to provide the fundamental chemical knowledge in support of the micronized copper preservative system, when many in the international community doubted it could work. This took vision and a lot of dedicated work by our team.
During my career in wood preservation my activities have been recognized in several ways. I was elected as Vice President (1984-1986) and President (1988-1991) of the CWPA; the Vice President (2000-2003; and President (2004) of the AWPA; and Vice President (1992-1995) and President (1995-1998) of the IRG. I have also been awarded honorary life member of the AWPA (2004), CWPA (2006), IRG (2007) the Royal Society of Chemistry (2017). In 2020 I was the recipient of the AWPA Award of Merit, which is the highest honour the AWPA gives to members. Current total of scientific papers published to date is 195.
In 1979 during the stressful creation of Forintek, Dr. Roger Smith and I created a consultancy – Mychem Wood Protection Consultants Ltd. Because Forintek flourished, this consultancy was largely dormant until the mid-1980’s when I took it over and developed the decay assessment of timber in buildings. Since 1990 one of the main activities for Mychem has been to undertake assessments of timber piling installed in the permafrost in most of the small and large communities in the Northwest Territories, and in Iqaluit in Nunavut. This experience was instrumental in developing a research program sponsored by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), with additional support from the Governments of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the chemical suppliers Ruetgers Canada, Viance, Timber Specialties, and Lonza. The aim of the program was to use the long-term performance of well-defined treated wood installed into permafrost. The data was able to confirm that in the Arctic and the Canadian North, where there is permafrost, the effect of the low temperatures for most of the year greatly reduces the decay hazard. This observation is supported by fungal studies from over 80 years ago. At the meeting of the CSAO80 Technical Committee I was able to propose a new Use category for our Wood Preservation Standard (CSAO80) and with a lot of support and input from the committee members, we were able to unanimously pass the first Use Category for the Arctic and Canadian North where permafrost is present. The discussion addressed issues such as the impact of global warming on changes in the permafrost, the need for protection of the environment, and the need for a long-term performance (in excess of 75 to 100 years). It is I believe one of my most exciting and rewarding contributions to wood preservation.
Since I became a member of IRG in 1975 I have been fortunate to make many contributions on a wide range of subjects. But more importantly, I have been lucky to make many friends. But this year at the webinar will be my final attendance at an IRG meeting. It is time to give way to the new generation of scientists. I wish everyone a fruitful and rewarding experience. It is the best international organization in wood preservation.
I have been fortunate to be involved in my research in the Arctic, developing my knowledge of the needs of the communities there has been rewarding. However, now that I am no longer in the laboratory or reading scientific papers, I have returned to one hobby that has always given me great pleasure – photography. While in isolation with my wife I made a daily record of our life. I focused particularly on the flowers, trees and birds during the evolution of Spring. Of the many thousands of photographs one of the Hooded Merganzer quickly carrying her babies on her back to safety is a favourite. Ducks and geese have been family pets over the years. My daughter Francesca has grown up with them in her back yard.
So perhaps the greatest joy will be seeing Francesca get married. She is currently working as a physiotherapist in Singapore, specializing in women’s health. Her wedding was due to happen at Brew Creek near Whistler, in June, but due to Covid 19 it has been postponed to the summer of 2021. So life will go on.