Reporter 444, 6 December 1999


Professor Boris Norman Cole ( b 08-01-1924 - d 03-09-1999 )

Professor Boris Cole devoted much of his professional career to the University of Leeds and in particular to the development of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His service to Leeds University extended over a quarter of a century, including a period in office of some twenty-four years as Head of Department. He came to Leeds in December 1962, shortly after the Department had moved from its original building in the original Baines Wing of the Yorkshire College, to new premises on Woodhouse Lane. The move represented the implementation of plans within the University to increase the student intake to each of the three main Departments of Engineering to about 100 each year and Boris experienced all the excitements and frustrations of such major expansions.

Boris Cole was born, educated and trained as a mechanical engineer in Birmingham. His mother brought him up after his father died when he was only five years old. He attended King Edward's High School before training under Harry Jackson of Hall and Jackson, consulting engineers, as a Junior Technical Assistant for two years at the start of World War II. He then embarked upon a three year apprenticeship with Belliss & Morcom Ltd. and studied part-time at the Birmingham College of Technology for a London University external degree in mechanical engineering. The degree was awarded with 1st. class honours in 1944, together with a Higher National Certificate and an Institution of Mechanical Engineers prize. This early experience of combined education and training undoubtedly influenced his thinking and later contributions to the national debate on engineering education.

The award of a highly prized Whitworth Scholarship enabled Boris to complete his PhD at the University of Birmingham in 1947. This was followed by an I.C.I. Fellowship as he further established his research in the field of gas dynamics, with special reference to shock tubes and air-breathing machines. He served on the staff of Birmingham University for some thirteen years, with promotions to a Senior Lectureship (1955) and then a Readership (1958) following his initial appointment to a Lectureship in 1949. During this time he served as Chairman of the Faculty Board of Applied Sciences from 1955-1957 and of the Board of Studies of Applied Science from 1959 until his move to Leeds. His appointments as Chairman of the Mains Services Planning Committee and Liaison Officer in relation to the rebuilding of the Departments of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering at Birmingham were to provide him with valuable experience as he was later called upon to guide the major expansion of mechanical engineering at Leeds. He represented the University of Birmingham on the Smethwick County Borough Education

Committee and in 1956 was nominated by the Ministry of Education to visit the Soviet Union as a member of the British Delegation on Engineering Education. In 1959 he was appointed United Kingdom Assessor and Reporter to 'EUSEC' for an international survey of engineering education.

Professor Boris Cole presided over many major developments within the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Leeds in the 1960's, 70's and 80's. The undergraduate intake expanded towards the target of 100 students, while the total postgraduate population achieved a similar number. Postgraduate courses leading to the degree of MSc were established and research in well defined areas blossomed. Throughout this time he also pursued his research interests and was particularly concerned to promote industrial links with the Department. His aim was to develop a department of .. "direct industrial usefulness". He published some 90 papers, mainly in the fields of thermo-fluids, applied mechanics and engineering education. The quality of his work was recognized through the award of Institution of Mechanical Engineers Prizes for papers on compressible flow and amphibious screw tractors.

The 1980's brought difficult and painful retrenchment to all sections of the University, but two achievements nevertheless gave particular pleasure; the Department was the first at Leeds to break the 1m level of researchincome from external sources and it achieved star rating in the firstnational (UGC) assessment of research. He abhorred the cuts and was increasingly dismayed by the bureaucracy which deflected staff from their primary roles in teaching and research. Boris served on several major University committees, including General Purposes, Planning, House and Estates and Maintenance and Services. He was a distinguished Chairman of the Group on Energy. He was a highly respected, rock steady figure on University committees and a steadfast senator. He toiled for the University as a whole, while defending with vigour and skill the interests of engineering. A flavour of his approach was impishly portrayed when he quoted the Oxford English Dictionary definition of an engineer in an Inaugural Lecture entitled "Mechanical Engineering 1975" which he presented on November 28th 1966. " 'One who contrives, designs and invents. An inventor. A plotter.' I like the last part best". He was a founder member of the Board of Governors of the EITB Leeds Training School and of the Board of Directors of ULIS.

Outside the University Boris was a very private person. He enjoyed music, particularly Bach, old maps and industrial archaeology. He sustained an active interest in local and national professional affairs and was a member of various Editorial Boards and Organising Committees for national and international conferences. He supported major committees of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and was particularly involved in the fields of Education & Training, Qualifications and Membership. He also served on SERC, DOI and DTI committees and he was a particularly supportive member of the Defence Advisory Council for over twenty years. Many will recall that he was a prime mover in the Committee of the Northern Professors of Mechanical Engineering, which contributed to the setting up of the Finniston Committee.

Boris Norman Cole retired from the University in December 1987. He died in Leeds on September 3rd. 1999 and is survived by his wife Sibylle, his daughter Esther and twin sons, Joseph and Max.


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