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Gwyn Jones 1955-2010

Gwyn Jones

Gwyn Jones

5 March 2010

Gwyn Jones, a key member of the Mechanical Workshop in the School of Chemistry, died in late February. Richard Dixon FRS, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, offers this appreciation of his life and career.

Gwyn Jones joined the Mechanical Workshop of the School of Chemistry in April 1985 from an engineering company in Nailsea, having trained as a fabricator and welder in Liverpool before moving to the Bristol area. This was a period when much chemical experimentation was migrating from glass to metal, and Gwyn’s combination of high-level skills met this need within the School. He could fabricate stainless steel vacuum vessels, capable of operating at ultralow pressures (a billionth of an atmosphere), and with five or more ports to enable a modular complete assembly. This undoubtedly helped to ensure the standing of our research at the forefront internationally. Apart from his extremely successful work within the School, Gwyn was also uniquely placed as one of the very few, and sometimes the only, skilled welder throughout the University.

In 1997 Gwyn was appointed as the supervisor of the Mechanical Workshop, at a time when staffing numbers were falling. He persuaded the School to invest in new equipment for the workshop, particularly lathes and milling machines with control facilities that led to increased productivity, thereby providing a workshop resource fit for the modern era. 

He was also a strong supporter of training. I learned to use workshop machinery myself as a postdoc in Canada. I was pleased that the Mechanical Workshop staff ran a training course for postgraduate students (as did the Glass Workshop) and maintained a student workshop for use by non-Workshop staff. This had the dual benefit that they (and I) were able to modify or fabricate small pieces of equipment, thereby lightening the load for the Workshop staff. But it also gave an appreciation of how to ensure that an intended job for the Workshop staff was feasible.

Gwyn played a major role in the trade union, a lifelong dedication. This led to his holding various offices including that of Chairman of the UoB branch of ASTMS at a time when the universities/government and Trade Unions were tackling each other head on. This brought two of Gwyn’s other strengths to the fore, negotiating and problem solving, which he used very effectively at local and national levels.

Gwyn loved to help others both as a skilled workshop technician and as a trade unionist – understanding, empathetic, but realistic and firm when the situation demanded it. As the Union’s Training Officer he was deeply committed to training and supporting the next generation, and in the craft tradition it was his job to pass on the skills and knowledge.

Gwyn was diagnosed a year ago with a particularly virulent form of bone cancer, and retired on grounds of ill health in July 2009. For most of this last year he maintained a very positive attitude to life, determined to get the most from whatever he could, and he died peacefully in his own home on 23 February 2010.

I was responsible for appointing Gwyn all those years ago, and I appreciate fully, as do all of my colleagues, the many contributions that Gwyn Jones made to the University, to the School of Chemistry, and to me personally.


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