Obituary: Colin Davidson, professor of electrical engineering

Colin William Davidson, Emeritus Professor. Born: 1934 in Edinburgh. Died: October 8 2020 in Ardfern, Argyll

Prof Colin Davidson
Prof Colin Davidson

Colin Davidson was born and brought up in Edinburgh. He was the youngest of four children of William Boston Davidson, an Executive Engineer with the then General Post Office, and his wife Jane (née Donaldson).

From helping his father with car maintenance and DIY, he acquired his interest in engineering and radio.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Colin attended George Heriot's School, where he was awarded the Miller Prize for Applied Physics. Later in his career he was twice appointed a governor of Heriot's.

He went on to study Electrical Engineering at Edinburgh University and was awarded medals for Mathematics and Electromagnetics. At that time the heavy electrical engineering subjects were provided at Heriot-Watt College, where he later returned as a member of staff. He graduated as top student in his year, with a First Class Honours degree, and went on to take a one-year Diploma in Electronics & Radio which was awarded with merit.

Through his interest in radio he became a licensed radio amateur, callsign GM3LAV. He was an active member of the Lothians Radio Society in the 1950s and 60s – perhaps longer – and gave a number of talks. He is fondly remembered for his support and enthusiasm by members of the society.

He took up a post as a Research Associate but after a few months was appointed as a lecturer in the expanding electrical department and he graduated with a PhD in microwave engineering in 1960. He left the university in 1961 to take up a post in industry with Nuclear Enterprises (GB) Ltd, but after four years he returned to the academic world, joining Heriot-Watt as a lecturer when it was designated one of the new universities. Apart from a year on leave of absence spent teaching in Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok he remained at Heriot-Watt for the rest of his career and was appointed twice as Head of Department of Electrical Engineering and serving twice as Dean of the Engineering Faculty.

Colin was terrified of the water, having been pushed into the swimming baths by one of his sister’s friends at an early age. However, while in Manchester to gain industrial experience his colleague, and friend, Arthur Lucas taught him to swim and thereafter he took up sailing.

Along with one of his colleagues at Edinburgh University he attended a sailing course at Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms and together they bought a racing dinghy which started his sailing career.

Through his sailing activities he met his wife and their honeymoon was spent at the centenary Regatta of the Royal Danish Yacht Club, which was held off Copenhagen, where they came second in the European Championships for their class.

Colin continued to enjoy sailing for the rest of his life. First with his wife and young children on the Firth of Forth, with many a sunny picnic on Inchcolm beach, and then later with summers cruising on the west coast of Scotland. His enjoyment of his time there led to a move to the west coast with his wife when he retired; his mooring was within walking distance of his door.

Colin was well known in the field of Electrical Engineering Education. He played an active part in the work of his profession through the Institution of Electrical Engineers, of which he was a member for more than 60 years, and the Engineering Council. He served on, or chaired, many of the IEE Boards and Committees. He was twice elected a Vice-President and served for two years as Honorary Treasurer.

For services to the Institution he was elected as an Honorary Fellow. When in 2005 a new Institution was formed by merging the IEE and the IIE many members objected to the way that the merger was handled and Colin was one of those who called the first Special General meeting in the history of the IEE since 1871.

Subsequently he chaired the working party set up to review the Charter and Bye-Laws of the new Institution and was elected to the Council of the new IET. He also served on the Senate of the Engineering Council.

He was invited to become a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Engineers of the City of London and was appointed as a Freeman of the City of London.

Outside his professional activities he served the wider community as an elected member of Lothian Regional Council and more recently as Chairman of Craignish Community Council, as Company Secretary for the new Argyll Community Housing Association and as a Board member for the West Highland housing Association.

He served in various capacities for the Royal Highland Yacht Club and as Secretary and Treasurer for the West Highland Anchorages and Moorings Association, which aims to protect our west coast anchorages.

Colin is survived by his wife and two daughters.

CONTRIBUTED​​​​​​