Goodbye to Dr Ronald Clarke: 1919-2017

23 May 2017

23 May 2017

Ronald Clarke proposed in 1963 the formation of a separate Food Engineering Panel (FEP) within the Food Group at the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI), and was its first Secretary from 1963 to 1972, and then Chairman for several years. The FEP status changed to the Food Engineering Group (FEG) in 1994, when the Food Group was dissolved. He continued as an FEG Committee member until the FEG was itself dissolved around 2008, and subsumed into the new Food Group. He had been a Food Group member since 1953 and had actively participated in UK and European meetings, and in 1962 presented a paper on “Spray Drying” to a world-wide audience of the first Congresses on Food Science and Technology in London, now IUFOST (International Union for Food Science & Technology) with which Lt/Col. Griffin, the SCI General Secretary, was closely involved and it finished with a splendid banquet in full evening dress at the Guildhall, City of London. He subsequently attended food congresses and Food Group tours, some at his own expense, to Hamburg, Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark, Paris and the Soviet Union.

In 1972 he persuaded David Shore, who was the FEG Chairman and Research Director at the Aluminium Plant & Vessel (APV) Company, to sponsor a Seligman Memorial Lecture Trust Fund, to be administered by the SCI, to honour Richard Seligman, the APV Founder who invented the plate heat exchanger in 1923, leading to the 1941 legislation on milk pasteurization.; 15 lectures have been delivered to date. APV subsequently generously contributed a further £60,000 such that the newly named SCI’s Seligman APV Trust could also provide annual fellowships and bursaries to overseas individuals (students and those working in the food industry), to come and study in the UK; to date over 25 Fellowships and 20 bursaries have been awarded.

He wrote an unusual biography, “Down the Supermarket Aisles”, the memoirs of an International Food Scientist. He rightly decided to recall his anecdotes and past events with the underlying theme of his technical involvement in the items that appear on the supermarket shelves , mainly processed foods and consumer goods, and in particular coffee and instant coffee. It was written in an understandable way for the average consumer with additional technical notes in the appendix. It contained numerous references to the many convenience foods that he was involved with throughout his career in the Food and Consumer Industries, including, coffee, dessert mixes, dog food, breakfast cereals, cake mixes, canned foods, dry drink mixes, drying oils, flour, face creams, jellies, soaps, tea, frozen fish/vegetables and talcum powder.

After Grammar Schools he graduated with a first class honours in Chemistry from Keble College, Oxford University in 1941. Realising that his interest also lay in both the chemistry and engineering science of manufacturing food and consumer products, he qualified as a Chemical Engineer in 1946 by taking the Institution of Chemical Engineers external examinations and design project. At university, Thomas Hedley (now Proctor & Gamble), ICI, and Unilever were alternatives suggested to those entering the chemical industry, all Northern based. Unilever Central Research at Port Sunlight was his first employment, without the need for medicals, psychologists or intelligence tests or referees report, just an Oxford degree. After 10 years he entered into what he described as an “Interlude” period before joining General Foods. In this “Interlude” period he worked for McDougall’s Flour on cake mixes after being interviewed by Mr. McDougall, followed by lecturing in Food Engineering at the National College of Food Technology, Union Carbide and then for the newly created British Chemical Engineer publication.

During the war he became a commissioned officer (P/O then F/O) in the RAFVR (T), taking classes at the Birkenhead Air Training Corps squadron, studying Astro-navigation and Metrology for pre-RAF training. He also served as a Private in the Home Guard. This experience served him well at a Christmas party at General Foods when he played Sergeant Wilson dealing with a possible bomb inside a Bird’s Custard Powder tin, made in Ireland, at a spoof performance of “Dad’s Army”.

His jocular and quirky outlook on life that some did not understand or appreciate, made him more suitable as a focused research specialist rather than a technical manager focus. It was in this former role that he worked for most of his 30 years at General Foods, initially at the old Alfred Bird’s Custard Factory in Birmingham, and then in Banbury from 1967 at a new purpose built coffee and dessert food manufacturing site, together with a large purpose built pilot plant, with a pilot scale coffee extraction process with 6 by 3m high extraction columns designed by him. He became a specialist in all aspects of the science of coffee manufacturing, from green bean to final product, especially taste and quality aspects.

He married in 1952, separated a year later and divorced in 1956, and described it as a disaster for both. However, it then enabled sufficient time for him to publish several books. The first in 1957 was Process Engineering in the Food Industry; based on information obtained from and discussed with many engineering equipment suppliers to the food and drink industry, especially APV. However, his life’s main work was to publish between 1985 and 1998, with Robert Macrea, Coffee, in six volumes, they are still considered to be standard works on coffee and cover all aspects of the subject from chemistry, through agronomy to commercial-legal issues. Two volumes were translated into Japanese. His last book in 2008, on Wine Chemistry which had always interested him, was co-authored with Dr. Jokie Bakker.

In 1967, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the British Standards Institution (BSI) started to develop standards in all aspects regarding coffee, including instant coffee. He was an inaugural member and ISO president from 1989 to 1997, as well as being active in the Association Scientifique Internationale du Café (ASIC), travelling extensively for them.

Following his retirement from General Foods and until he was about 90, he worked as a consultant to many different companies, gave lectures and in 2001, co-authored a book with Professor O.G. Vitzhum, Coffee Recent Developments, another standard work in the world of coffee.

He was born in Huddersfield on January 1st 1919, but lived most of his life in Donnington, Chichester. He was a keen member of the Goodwood Racehorse Owners Group. In his last years, he dedicated himself to restoring the Georgian house his father bought in 1940, and where he lived following his retirement and working in the garden. He died peacefully on March 30, 2017 following two massive strokes.


Graham Byars
Chairman SCI’s Seligman APV Trust Management Committee and former work colleague at General Foods.

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