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Mr. Norman Williams (1939-2012)

Mr. Norman Williams

Norman Williams, who spent 38 years as a workshop technician at Cardiff University College, 18 in Chemistry, and then 20 in Microbiology, passed away aged 73 after a long illness, cheerfully and bravely borne.

After leaving Ferndale Grammar School in the Rhondda Fach, Norman joined the Chemistry Department, while continuing to learn his trade in night school courses at Llandaff Technical College (now Cardiff Metropolitan University), and Treforest School of Mines (now University of Glamorgan). In the mid-seventies, having acquired  workshop and vacuum technology expertise in Chemistry, working alongside Tony Leach, and in close collaboration with the other workshops manned by Ernie Meddick (glassblowing), and John Boase and Gwyn Phillips(electronics) in Professor AG Evans’s Department, he moved to become Deputy Laboratory Superintendent in the Microbiology Department in Newport Road. Then, Norman became Senior Technician in charge of the PABIO workshop (after the merger of University College with UWIST), in the Main Building, Cathays Park, with Chris Welsby, Keith Oliver and Lance Morkot. Colleagues remember Norman with great respect, for his professionalism, humour, and good companionship. Then after a spell of ill-health, he took early retirement in 1996.

Norman played a key role in the development of research and teaching in both Departments of the Science Faculty through his exceptional skills and meticulous patience in devising and constructing unique pieces of equipment used by successive generations of staff and students. On the larger scale under the direction of Professor David Hughes, Dr Dave Stafford, and Chris James, Chief Technician, he produced equipment for anaerobic digesters used for the treatment of domestic, farm and industrial wastes (e.g. at the field station at Cleppa Park, Newport) and at a pig farm in Cheddestone. That the First International Conference on Anaerobic Digestion was held in Cardiff in 1978 was a tribute to the pioneering work carried out here, and Norman had played a major role in making our University the World leader in what was to eventually become known as a “Green Technology”.

He also helped Mr. Ted Hill in his work on microbial contamination of hydrocarbon storage tanks, and with cutting fluid lubricants in Machine tools, in the engines of ships and in aviation fuel (notably that used in Concord). Many of the problems of heavy industry, including offensive and toxic gas emissions, those of rapid, extensive and costly corrosion of the stainless steel of oil rigs and in the hulls of ships, and blocked fuel filter lines are often due to microbial activities, but require engineering intuition for solutions.  With Dr. Geoff Callely, Norman built laboratory test models for treatment of contaminants of coke plants. In all these projects, collaborations throughout the Faculties of Science (Chemistry, Physics, Plant Science, Geology and Zoology) and Engineering (Electrical and Mechanical), and especially with Graham Jones, Bill O’Neil and Rob Tucker of the Electronic workshops were pivotal. Many of his biomedical devices were built with Keith Oliver’s help. Those for Professor Terry Coakley provided important novel ultrasonic diagnostic devices (e.g. for the rapid bedside identification of meningitis). The mass spectrometric interfaces produced for Professor David Lloyd are still in daily use. Norman’s expertise has been used to good effect not only in Cardiff, but with ex-students and Sabbatical visitors, many of whom are now Professors in Universities in the UK and woldwide. The influence of Cardiff University scientific and technology workshop ingenuity continues to be wide-ranging and pervasive.
In his home-town of Tylorstown, Norman is remembered in that closely knit community as a highly active life-long member of the Rugby club there, and especially for his work with the youth team. Many photographs of Norman adorn the walls of the clubhouse, where local triumphs or disasters are celebrated or seriously discussed.

Norman, the fondly remembered but sadly missed family man, was husband to Sheila, father of Deborah, Richard and Sara, and grandfather to Jason, Taylor, Gethin, and Anwen. Our deepest sympathies go out to them.

- David Lloyd, Tony Leach and Chris James