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Concrete technology pioneer dies

Adam neville cropped

New Civil Engineer’s technical editor emeritus Dave Parker remembers professor Adam Neville, who died recently.

The UK construction industry has lost one of its most colourful characters. Professor Adam Neville, CBE, who has died at the age of 93, was known to generations of civil engineers for his authorship of the “concrete bible”, his seminal Properties of Concrete, the best selling concrete technology book of all time. He had a glittering academic career – and a life story to marvel at.

More than a million copies of the “bible” have been sold since 1963, with the fifth edition published only five years ago. It has been translated into 13 languages. Ten more books were to follow. Such was the status of Properties of Concrete that to have one’s research referenced in it was an accolade much sought after. I was lucky enough to have some work on microsilica concretes I carried out at the Queen’s University of Belfast cited in the fourth edition – and I was proud.

I first encountered Neville in person when he became vice-chancellor of the University of Dundee in 1978. With his fund of anecdotes and his trademark handlebar moustache it was hard to believe Adam Neville was born Adam Maciej Lisocki in Poland in 1923 and first arrived in England in 1938. It was only much later that I heard the full story.

Neville returned home in 1939, only to be interned by the Soviets and sent to a Siberian labour camp. Freed in 1941, he made his own way to Iran, where he joined the Free Polish Forces and fought with distinction in Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Italy. He was decorated several times for gallantry and exceptional courage.

His academic career began at Southampton University, and included professorships or equivalent in Nigeria and Canada. In 1968 Adam became professor of civil engineering at the University of Leeds.

During his time at Leeds he successfully encouraged more women to take up engineering. At one time there were more female civils students at Leeds than in all other UK universities combined, and Adam’s department became the largest in the UK. There were other awards and achievements, too many to mention, but those who knew him can find it easy to believe that he was still skiing at the age of 80. He will be missed.

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