Donald Pack

Scotsman obituary

Donald Pack, ex-Strathclyde maths professor

Obituaries Index

Emeritus Professor Donald Pack, CBE, Professor of Mathematics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, 1953-1982. Born 14 April 1920, died 3 December 2016 aged 96.

Donald Pack played an important part in the development of secondary and higher education and in applied mathematics research in Scotland from his arrival in 1947 until his retirement in 1982. He made a major contribution to the development of the Glasgow Royal Technical College into the University of Strathclyde by building up the research side of the Mathematics Department. His interests were wide, ranging from applied mathematics, his chosen speciality, through classical music, his recreation, to his hobbies of golf and gardening. He was a well-rounded, european educationalist.

His early research interest was in mathematical problems of jets and shock waves in supersonic flow: later he collaborated on problems in rarefied gas dynamics with workers in the USA, Germany, Italy and Poland in addition to colleagues at Strathclyde University. Donald was born in Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, to John and Minnie Pack. He was educated at Higham Ferrers Primary School and Wellingborough School. He went on to win a College Open Major and a State Scholarship in Mathematics to New College Oxford where he took a First in Mathematics in 1941.

Following graduation, he was sent to the Mathematical Laboratory at Cambridge to work for the Ordinance Board on calculations for anti aircraft ballistics. In 1943 he transferred to the theoretical research group at the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) at Fort Halstead in Kent, following which, in 1944 he did scientific work in Germany with the rank of Acting Captain attached to the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine). Whilst there, he published research papers in supersonic flow and produced the first experimental demonstration of the Prandl-Meyer "expansion fan"in two-dimensional supersonic flow around a convex corner.

He returned to Britain in late 1946, and in January 1947 took up a Lectureship in Mathematics at the Queens College, Dundee in St. Andrews University. In the same year he married Constance (Connie) Gillam, then a fellow-member of the Dundee Mathematics Department, by whom he had two sons and one daughter.

In receipt of a Fulbright Travel Award, he was a Visiting Research Associate at the University of Maryland 1951-2 working in supersonic shock waves and jets. From 1952-53, he held a Lectureship at the University of Manchester. In 1953, he took up the Chair (and Departmental Head) of Mathematics at the then Glasgow Royal Technical College, originally founded by John Anderson in 1796.

Before the College became the University of Strathclyde in 1964 it was required to bring departments up to university standard especially in research. Donald built up the research side of the Mathematics Department with emphasis on applied mathematics so that by 1964 Strathclyde was the major applied mathematics department in Scotland.

Under his leadership the number of academic staff increased from 7 to around 40, and the theoretical mechanics research section was identified by the Royal Society as a major research group. In 1967 Strathclyde was the first Scottish University to host the British Theoretical Mechanics Colloquium.

Donald held guest professor positions at the Institute of Plasma Physics, Munich in 1967, the Technische Universitaet Berlin in 1967, Warsaw University in 1977, Bologna University and Politecnico Milan in 1980, Technische Hoschule, Darmstadt in 1981, and visitor appointments in Warsaw University in 1977 and Kaiserslautern in 1980 and 1984.

Donald was instrumental in the early development of the Honours Degree in Mathematics which had two distinguishing features; an industrial placement in third year and a substantial project in fourth year. Further, responding to a then shortage of Honours level mathematics teachers in Scotland, he developed a scheme whereby mathematics teachers in the West of Scotland with a general degree undertook the third year of the Strathclyde degree part-time and then the fourth year full-time to obtain an honours degree and so qualify to teach mathematics through all years of secondary school.

With twenty two others, he was a founder member in 1964, of the United Kingdom Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), and was its first Treasurer until 1972.

He was a member of the Dumbarton Education Committee, 1960-66, The General Teaching Council for Scotland, 1966-73, Chairman Scottish Certificate of Education Examination Board 1969-77, various government scientific committees 1952-84. He was Chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into Truancy & Indiscipline in Schools in Scotland 1974-77, which produced the Pack Report, and a governor of Hamilton College of Education 1977-81. At Strathclyde he served as Vice Principal from 1968 to 1972. In honour of his distinguished service he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of the University of Strathclyde in 2014.

In 1969 he was awarded the OBE, and in 1978 the CBE for services to education.

Donald remained at Strathclyde until his formal retirement in 1982, finally holding an Honorary Research Professorship until 1985 and Emeritus Professor from 1986.

His outside interests included serving as founder chairman of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland 1978-1988, chair of its steering committee 1978 (Nicola Benedetti and Evelyn Glennie were early young members of NYOS) and Hon President 1988 until his death.

He and Connie loved to support the orchestra by travelling with them on their tours. He was President of Milngavie Music Club 1983-93. For many years he played in a string quartet at home for pleasure. He was a member of the Scottish Arts Council, 1980-85, and an Elder of the Church of Scotland from 1973.

Donald was a devoted family man, taking huge pleasure in the development of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and this pleasure was reciprocated. In his later years, his sight and hearing suffered, but not his sharp mind and impressive memory. He was at heart a humble man. He wife Connie predeceased him in 2010. He is survived by his two sons John and Alan, and daughter Catherine, 6 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren.

Bob Cole

Monday 13 February 2017 © The Scotsman