Prof Ronald Jowitt: 1924 - 2015

15 Jul 2015

It was sometime in 1991 that I was introduced to Ron in Belgrave Square, London, just prior to the commencement of a Committee meeting of the Food Engineering Group of the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI). I had just been co-opted as a Committee member. As soon as the meeting commenced and the minutes of the previous meeting were tabled for discussion, I was awe struck by the eloquence with which Ron articulated his views on its substantive contents as well as its presentation style. Although the discussion on the minutes took a good part of an hour, which many colleagues - in private - argued was unnecessary, one couldn’t help but admire his attention to detail and concede that the minutes, as accepted, were not only a significant improvement over the draft, but also a far more helpful document for future reference. More importantly, being in his presence during such discussions was essentially good schooling for me in the art of conducting oneself in meetings. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to be enriched by his profound knowledge of a wide range of subjects, vast experience, powerful memory and an extraordinary ability to recall anecdotes. He was often intellectually heavy. One of his former colleagues complained that it was impossible to have a light hearted conversation with him. Although there may be some truth in this comment, I personally found Ron to have a great sense of humour and spent many a times being amused by his witty narration of anecdotes.

Ron was undoubtedly a stickler for correctness in the use of English language, and did not hesitate to correct those who sent him documents with linguistic inaccuracies, as many international presenters - including some with very substantial reputations - found out when their papers were virtually re-written prior to publication in the proceedings of the 7th International Congress of Engineering and Food (Brighton)! I am sure 'turning in his grave' would be an appropriate reaction if he were to read this piece on him!

Ron’s contribution to Food Engineering in the UK and worldwide must be considered to be pioneering, to say the least. In the UK, he was a prime mover for setting up food engineering groups in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Chemical Engineers and SCI, all three organisations with which he was associated all his active life. He was also one of the founding members of the International Association of Engineering and Food (IAEF) for which he wrote the 'rule book'. It was only appropriate that he was given the IAEF Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. But his most significant contribution to the subject is founding the Journal of Food Engineering and editing it for a number of years. He recognised very early on, that there was considerable research activity in the subject area worldwide, but there was hardly any journal dedicated to the subject. The Journal of Food Engineering not only owes its existence, but also its strong contemporary relevance to Ron.

By the time I met Ron, he had already had a full career at the National College of Food Technology at Weybridge (Surrey), where, amongst his many achievements, was the one to motivate his colleagues: Jim Brennan, John Butters, Norman Cowell and Vic Lilley to 'externalise' (to use his own expression) the College's food processing and technology courses by writing a book, which went on to become one of the most successful books of its time. Prior to joining the College, Ron worked with Jacobs Engineering, where he gained experience and insights into food process equipment. Ron, however, started his career in the nuclear industry where he designed a 'portable nuclear plant', which did not take off because of the reputation acquired by this industry after the Second World War, during which, incidentally, Ron served with the home guards. His transition from the nuclear to food industry was apparently facilitated by the skills he had acquired in nuclear plant hygiene, which was then seen to be closely allied to food plant hygiene. In terms of training, Ron graduated from Loughborough University with a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering, and with a view to join the nuclear industry, he completed a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering at University College London. His early life may come as a total surprise to some. Ron was born into a poor family in west Yorkshire. His father was a coal miner with very modest means, and Ron apparently spent the first five to six years of life without shoes! He went to the local village school - the Ryhill School - and his break came at the age of eleven when he won a scholarship to study at the Hemsworth Grammar School - a prestigious school in the region where he excelled in Maths and Sciences before finding his way to university.

Ron lived a full and active life to the age of 91. He is survived by children Helen, Claire and Richard, and grandchildren - George and Freya. There is no doubt that he is missed by all those who knew him. But we can all rest content that the organisations and publications he has set up to promote Food Engineering will benefit many future generations of talented men and women who may hardly know him!

Prof Keshavan Niranjan
University of Reading

Reproduced from the Journal of Food Engineering, Volume 165, November 2015, Pages 190-191.

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