Obituary Ron Stephenson

18 March 2020

18 March 2020

It is with regret that SCI announces the death of member Ron Stephenson.

Ron Stephenson began his chemistry studies, via evening classes, while working as a Laboratory Assistant for a Unilever subsidiary. He volunteered for the Royal Air Force ahead of his call-up papers and was trained as a navigator. He flew missions in Halifax bombers of No.38 Group, dropping weapons and supplies to the French Resistance and later food relief drops in Holland.

On return to civilian life, in 1947, he received a War Educational Grant to continue with full-time studies at South East Essex Technical College (now University of East London). He passed the examination for Associateship of the Royal Institute of Chemistry in 1951 and started work as a development chemist at a tar works in Silvertown. He said he got the job because he was skilled enough to play cards with the boss in the lunch hour.

Ron’s career continued with research and quality control of ‘black materials’ – tar and bitumen-based road surfacing materials, asphalt and Macadam and bituminous water-proofing agents. He was responsible for the development of a range of coal-tar derivatives including disinfectants and laundry aids. He also worked on inhibitors of steel corrosion caused by sulphate-reducing bacteria – a particularly smelly activity, as hydrogen sulphide and other nauseating sulphur-containing chemicals are produced.

In highways engineering Ron developed roadmaking and repair products, with a focus for Arctic Regions including oil-bound Macadam for those areas where frost-heave is an annual problem. Ron became a Member of the Institute of Asphalt Technology and in 1970 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, becoming a Life Member in 1994. He eventually retired as Managing Director of the UK division of Kenobel Ltd and became an independent consultant.

In 1974 Ron joined the Society of Chemical Industry and brought his usual enthusiasm for cooperation and coordination. He was a Member, Committee Member and Treasurer of the Thames and Kennet Section. He eventually became Chairman of the Construction Materials Group (CMG). Within SCI management, he was a member of the Committees for Finance and for Membership Affairs.

Recognising his extraordinary gifts of time, leadership, vision and enthusiasm, Ron was awarded the Lampitt Medal in 1999 – the highest honour the Society bestows. He was an SCI Council Member between 2011 and 2014.

Ron was keen to support younger people in the construction industry and worked very hard organising and running the Young Researcher’s Forum sponsored by the Construction Materials Group. For his contributions to the activities of the CMG he was presented with the George Bessey Award in 2009.

A dedicated sportsman, Ron played rugby and cricket and was a member of the Austrian Alpine Club. It was through the latter that he met and married his Swiss wife, Anna. It was an old rugby injury that eventually caused circulation problems and he had to have a leg amputated. Despite this handicap Ron continued to be a cheerful and lively companion and still managed to get to Belgrave Square for important meetings of the CMG and the Annual Meeting of the SCI.

Anna predeceased Ron by 14 months. We send sympathy and condolences to all his family, especially daughters Helen, Karen and Lisa.

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