19 Jan 2015
Matěj Karel Schwitzer was born in the last year of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and brought up in Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia, near where his family were land owning farmers, speaking German, Slovak, and Hungarian as a child, and learning French and English by the age of 21. He proceeded to the renowned Charles University in Prague, where he read Chemical Engineering, but also attended lectures in philosophy, a life long interest.
Mat came to London in January 1939 and studied for a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering at University College, London. His first job was with Bamag working on the design of chemical plants. He then joined Armour, which later became Armour-Hess and then Akzo. As sales director he developed an international sales network making good use of his languages. He was particularly well known for his work on fatty amines and became managing director of a manufacturing division based in Holland.
He was active in SCI for many years and he ensured that oleochemistry was adequately represented in the lecture and meetings programme. In 1972 he was invited by the Colloid and Surface Chemistry Group to present the Sir Eric Rideal lecture, awarded to individuals who have made sustained and distinguished contributions to that science. He was a committee member during the period 1980-1989 and then for 10 years acted as internal auditor of the Oils and Fats Group (now Lipids) accounts. In 1968 he was honoured by the award of the Society's Lampitt medal, so named after the late Dr Leslie Lampitt who had served as an officer for 37 years.
After retiring from Akzo he acted as an independent consultant. In 1976 he was invited to lecture on potential oleochemical applications of palm and palm kernel oils at a United Nations Seminar in Kuala Lumpur. This led to an invitation to consult for the Malaysian government on the long term development of their oleochemicals industry. This has been highly successful and today it is a major force on the world market for oleochemicals. Subsequent consultancy led Mat to travel widely in the Indian sub continent, the Near East and elsewhere.
His first book Continuous Processing of Fats (Leonard Hill, 1951) was followed by Margarine and Other Food Fats (Leonard Hill, 1956), and then after retirement he wrote Slovakia: The Path To Nationhood (self published, 2002).
Mat was well known in his local area of North London. He was chairman for some years of the Highgate Society, and as a keen gardener also became chairman of the Highgate Horticultural Society. He ran a lively philosophy group from his own home, with a small group meeting monthly for over 20 years discussing philosophical topics. Some 130 people attended his funeral service on 10 November 2014 at All Saints, Highgate, London. We heard touching tributes from his son and grandchildren, which can be read online at his tributes page in the link below. He was laid to rest next to his wife Joan in Highgate Cemetery.