Huw Ronald Phillips was an academic and engineer renowned for his leadership, teaching, and research in mining engineering the world over. He died in January, 2022, at the age of 74.
He was the son of Rev James Ronald Phillips and his wife Margaret (née Davies). He was born on 10th July 1947, in Aberystwyth. During Huw’s schooldays, the family lived in the Vicarage in the High Street, Hirwaun, since his father was vicar of the Parish Church of St Lleurwg; his mother was a teacher. He attended Hirwaun Boys Primary School and transferred from there to ABGS in September 1958. In the sixth form, he took physics and double mathematics1, 2.
He was one of three boys from the school who entered the University of Bristol in 1965. Huw followed a course in Electrical Engineering and after graduation in 1968 was appointed to a position in the National Coal Board. He occupied various positions underground in the coalmines of east Wales. This work experience allowed him in 1970 to obtain his Engineer’s Certificate (UK Mines & Quarries Act, 1954), from the UK Ministry of Technology. His interest in mining led him to complete an M.Sc. (1971), at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His topic was well ahead of his time: “Dynamic analysis of coal ploughing systems by digital simulation.” He was then appointed as a Senior Research Associate at the Department of Mining Engineering at Newcastle during which time he completed his doctorate, having researched and produced his Ph.D. thesis, (1976), on “Rock cutting mechanics related to the design of primary excavation systems”. During these years in the UK, he became a member, (and later in 1984 a Fellow), of the Institute of Mining Engineers, registered as a Chartered Engineer, and became a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. It was at this time, whilst in the north east of England, he married Joan in 1976.
His work and research in the coal industry continued until in 1977, when at the age of 30, he transferred as a lecturer, and later as senior lecturer, to the University of New South Wales, in Australia. Whilst there, he also acquired various university administrative responsibilities and committee memberships, as well as Australian government and industry-related committee work. In 1981, during his tenure in Australia, he took a 6-month sabbatical in South Africa, at the Chamber of Mines Research Organisation.
Four years after the end of his sabbatical in 1986, he returned to South Africa to become Professor of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. It was here that he stayed for the rest of his career — a period of 27 years. For 25 of those years he was Head of Mining Engineering, stepping down as Head of School at the end of 2009, but continuing as the Chair of Mining Engineering until his retirement in 2012. In 2013 he was appointed Professor Emeritus, and was the recipient of the prestigious Brigadier Stokes Memorial Award. His retirement also initiated many other awards and honours from several societies and institutes in South Africa. In retirement, he continued to work supervising postgraduate students, implementing the new mine ventilation area of postgraduate specialization, and serving on the School’s executive committee and editorial boards.
In 2019, he was awarded a senior doctorate in engineering from Witwatersrand on the strength of his original work in engineering development, which was rated as being of major technological, economic and social significance. It is worth listing the fields in which Huw Phillips contributed. His research spanned five key areas: mechanised mining systems; spontaneous combustion; mine ventilation in deep-level gold mines; monitoring and controlling respirable dust in coal mines; and the prevention of methane ignition and coal dust explosions.
Huw grew up in Hirwaun about 12 miles from Aberfan, where the tragic coal-tip slide in 1966 killed 144 people - 116 of them schoolchildren. Indeed, he had arrived home from university on Friday, October 21st 1966, the day of the disaster, for a family function. He subsequently took part in the recovery operations alongside hundreds of local residents, miners, members of the emergency services and student volunteers. It is not surprising therefore, that much of Huw’s professional research was concerned with health and safety in mining.
Huw married twice. With his first wife, Joan, he had two children Andrea and Paul. Sadly, Joan died in 2002. In 2013, Huw married Beatrice who had also lost her partner previously. Huw is survived by his wife.
He passed away after a short illness on January 26th, 2022. His daughter Andrea
and son Paul both took part in Huw’s memorial service
on February 4th, 2022. A video of this memorial service was available online, (February
2022), at the following link:
On a more personal level, Huw was known for his story telling, his humour, his humility, as a mentor and as a person who treated others with the greatest of respect regardless of their position or status.s
It is difficult to convey the great esteem in which Huw was held by his colleagues, and by others further afield. He was indeed a formidable administrator, academic leader, researcher and teacher who was hugely respected by his students and peers. His legacy in the field of mining engineering will endure.
Gwelir colled enfawr ar ei ôl; ni welir ei debyg eto.
CR 28 February 2022