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Obituary: Ken Darby-Dowman


It was with great sadness that staff and students at Brunel University learnt of the sudden death of Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Kenneth Darby-Dowman in July 2011. Ken was 63. An active member of the Operational Research community for over 30 years and referred to by many as ‘the perfect gentleman’, Ken was a respected and much-loved colleague and friend to many at Brunel.

Ken was born on 3 April 1948 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but moved to Lancashire as a child. He studied for his first degree at the University of Bradford, where he graduated in 1970 with a first class honours in Statistics. It was during these university years that he met his wife-to-be, Anne – also a statistician – whom he married shortly after completing his degree.

He began his career in academia at the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster), where he worked for 18 years, progressing from Lecturer to Head of the Division of Mathematical and Decision Sciences. He took a brief sabbatical from this role in the mid-1980s to take up a post at the University of South Carolina as a Visiting Associate Professor, and spent two years living with his wife and three children in the US.

Ken was appointed as a Lecturer at Brunel in 1991, but his association with the University began much earlier, in 1976 – he completed both his MSc and his PhD here, under the supervision of Professor Gautam Mitra. Upon his return to Brunel as a lecturer, Ken rose quickly through the ranks, reaching the position of Head of the Department of Mathematics in the space of a decade. By 2006, he had been appointed Head of the School of Information Systems, Computing and Mathematics.

Ken was a thoughtful and collegiate leader who focused on supporting the many staff in his Department and School, but he also contributed greatly to the academic development of Operational Research. Ken published more than 60 papers and was Editor of the IMA Journal of Management Mathematics for four years. An expert on scheduling optimisation systems, he developed software in the mid-1990s to help the Spanish authorities run their buses on time, and to help the US Coast Guard optimise their schedules for ships deployed in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

In 2008 he took on the challenging role of Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Strategy and Staff Development, switching to PVC for Student Experience and Staff Development in 2010. He excelled in each role, and was an excellent advocate for staff and students within the University.

Outside of his work, Ken was involved in a huge array of activities, and was described by his children as “having a better social life than them.” His passions for travelling, for good food and wine, and for Blackpool Football Club were matched only by his love for canoeing, which played a large role in his family life – so much so that two of his sons went on to compete in the sport internationally. He had no intention of taking it easy after his intended retirement this autumn either, with plans to travel to South America and study Classics at the Open University.

Ken will be sorely missed by everyone who knew and worked with him. Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Jenks described him as a “kind, generous and extremely good humoured” colleague, adding: “His authority as a leader within the University stemmed from the fact that he was wholly sincere, even-handed and open with colleagues and students alike. He worked extremely hard and never delivered less than he had promised. Indeed, he truly espoused the core values that he had contributed so much towards placing at the heart of the University’s plan. It’s an overused and trivialised term but Ken was a really ‘nice’ person and he always brightened my day.”

Another colleague, Professor Rob Macredie, added: "Ken was a consistent support to all, and his warmth and approachable nature made him a wonderful confidant – he always made time to listen and understand, and gave sage advice whenever it was sought without forcing it upon anyone.”

Ken passed away on 5 July 2011 while on holiday with family and friends in Turkey. He is survived by his wife Anne, and their three children, Rachel, Paul and Richard.