Tom Douglas

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Thomas Harrison Douglas, who has died aged 91, was a highly respected civil engineer, an advocate of hydroelectric power, whose knowledge and skills in tunnelling and dam construction were second to none. He was an authority on pumped storage hydro systems, where water is pumped to a higher elevation at off peak periods when the cost of power is low, then released through turbines at times when the electricity is most needed.

His travels began in 1940, when he was evacuated to the US for the duration of the war. With Tom's father, George, busy at his oil and cake mills, and his mother, Margaret, driving for the Mechanised Transport Corps, they arranged for the u-year-old and his older sister Mona to stay with relatives in Georgia.

After a few months at |unior High, Tom won a scholarship to Western Military Academy in Illinois. It was the making of him, he would say.

The first sentences of his entry in the Academy's graduating year book are, '(Scotty Douglas came from across the sea but will forever be a part of Western and the class of '45. Few cadets were better liked or had more friends". Before he left the US, he worked as a bell boy at exclusive hotels at Sea Island in Georgia, and NewYork's Rockefeller Centre.

Noting his nephew's abilities, interests and experience, an uncle suggested that civil engineering would be the ideal career. Following an apprenticeship with Blyth and Blyth in Edinburgh, he became junior engineer at Balfour Beatty In London. The company soon assigned him to work on a new hydroelectric scheme in Kenya where, as Assistant Civil Engineer, he not only managed tunnel blasting and dam construction but was also armed as a Reserve Police Officer, this being during the Mau Mau rebellion.

The first sentences of his entry in the Academy's graduating year book are, '(Scotty Douglas came from across the sea but will forever be a part of Western and the class of '45. Few cadets were better liked or had more friends". Before he left the US, he worked as a bell boy at exclusive hotels at Sea Island in Georgia, and NewYork's Rockefeller Centre.

The first sentences of his entry in the Academy's graduating year book are, '(Scotty Douglas came from across the sea but will forever be a part of Western and the class of '45. Few cadets were better liked or had more friends". Before he left the US, he worked as a bell boy at exclusive hotels at Sea Island in Georgia, and NewYork's Rockefeller Centre.

In Scotland in 1955 he joined Babtie, Shaw and Morton in Glasgow, worklng on North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board schemes on Loch Laidon, the Burn of Mar and Loch Awe, and shipyard reconstruction at Whiteinch. Ten years later, he joined WV Zinn, and was responsible for designing the water supply and surface drainage system for Livingston New Town centre.

The first sentences of his entry in the Academy's graduating year book are, '(Scotty Douglas came from across the sea but will forever be a part of Western and the class of '45. Few cadets were better liked or had more friends". Before he left the US, he worked as a bell boy at exclusive hotels at Sea Island in Georgia, and NewYork's Rockefeller Centre.

The first sentences of his entry in the Academy's graduating year book are, '(Scotty Douglas came from across the sea but will forever be a part of Western and the class of '45. Few cadets were better liked or had more friends". Before he left the US, he worked as a bell boy at exclusive hotels at Sea Island in Georgia, and NewYork's Rockefeller Centre.

In 1970, now with James Williamson and Partners, he began work on a massive pumped storage hydro scheme at Craigroyston, Loch Lomondside, but when the government halted that scheme, he was reassigned to take charge of the pumped storage development at Dinorwig, North Wales. Opened in 1982, it was dubbed (the engineering project of the decade' and it remains the largest scheme of its kind in Europe.

The first sentences of his entry in the Academy's graduating year book are, '(Scotty Douglas came from across the sea but will forever be a part of Western and the class of '45. Few cadets were better liked or had more friends". Before he left the US, he worked as a bell boy at exclusive hotels at Sea Island in Georgia, and NewYork's Rockefeller Centre.

The next few years saw Tom travelling to a number of countries to advise on or oversee work on hydro schemes. He spent time in Turkey, Mozambique and Japan, and while in Papua New Guinea he crossed primitive rope bridges as he assessed for clients the possibilities of damming remote rivers.

It was in the People's Republic of China that he made his biggest contributions to hydro-electric power development in the Far East, helping at the Guangzhou Pumped Storage Power Station, where the positioning of the lakes reminded him of Dinorwig. So impressed were his hosts that he was invited to give a series of lectures to an audience of power engineers and construction staff.

On his return to the UK he took charge of Historic Scotland's commission for driving a new vehicle and services tunnel through 100 metres of rock at Edinburgh Castle. All these projects through the 198os into the early 1990s consolidated Tom's team-building, mentoring and negotiating skills.

Meanwhile, he began publishing articles on tunnelling and organised the Institute of Civil Engineers' major international conference on pumped storage in 1990. Invitations began to come from many quarters.

He was asked to be a member of the Board of Enquiry into the deaths of four men during construction of a dam in Derbyshire, and was appointed arbiter in a multi-million pound dispute between South African Railways and a tunnelling company. Now a full-time consultant, Tom was called in to advise CERN on the tunnel system for the Large Hadron Collider. Years later he was to remark on the coincidence that an Edinburgh-born engineer had helped devise the tunnels used to prove the theories of Peter Higgs, an Edinburgh University professor.

Tom himself was honoured to become a professor - Visiting Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Strathclyde. Another honour was his appointment as Chairman of the Association of Consulting Engineers in 1990.

However, he would always say that the most significant family honour was when his wife Patricia was awarded the MBE in 1991 for her work as Director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society. Their first home together in 1952 was a Nissen hut by the Maragwa River in Kenya; where Tom was working on the power station, but on their return to the UK they settled first in Bearsden, and then Killearn, Stirlingshire.

They were committed Episcopalians, and were keen tennis players and swimmers, and were leaders in youth organisations: Patricia with the Girl Guides and Sea Rangers, Tom as Chairman of the Shakespeare Street Youth Club Management Committee.

Tom was survived by their two sons, Antony (who was born in Kenya) and Gavin, six grand-children and six great grandchildren.


Tom Douglas, civil engineer

Born: 5th Ju|y 1928; Died: 27th April 2020



DOUGLAS Patricia Margaret MBE [Died] Peacefully, with the family, at Auchlochan Garden Village, on 29th August 2016, Patricia Margaret Douglas MBE (FRSA), aged 85 years. Beloved wife of Thomas Harrison Douglas, dear mother of Antony and Gavin, mother-in-law of Catriona and a much loved grandma of Adam, Richard, James, Jonathan, Harris and Kern and great-grandsons Seth, Heath and Harrison.

Source

Sources for this article include:

  • The Glasgow Herald


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