Obituary: Alastair Paterson, civil engineer who was in demand from the Forth Road Bridge to the Suez Canal

Died: July 20, 2021.

ALEXANDER Craig (Alastair) Paterson, CBE, who has died aged 97, was a prominent civil, structural and consulting engineer who, during his distinguished career, was engaged on projects as diverse and as high-profile as Dungeness B nuclear power station and the Forth Road Bridge.

Others included consultation on the Suez Canal at Port Said, a new port in Nigeria, and undertakings in Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Many professional honours came his way, almost too many to mention. As chairman of the British Consultants Bureau between 1978 and 1980, he accompanied the president, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, on trips to China and many other countries.

He was president of the British Section, Societe des Ingenieurs et Scientifiques de France, in 1980. Three years later he was elected to the Royal Academy of Engineering, and was president of the Institution of Structural Engineers from 1984-85.

He was also a member of the board of trustees of the Engineering Council (1987-89), which overlapped with his time as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers. From October 1992 to January 1995, he was a director of the British Board of Agrément, which works with the construction supply chain.

All of this followed his wartime service. In 1944, the same year in which he capped his time at university with characteristic distinction, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers then joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

He was posted to Burma, India and China, serving in Burma with Field Marshal Sir William Slim’s 14th Army (“The Forgotten Army”).

Among many experiences in Burma, he worked with companies whose elephants proved vital as transport and for lifting and accurately placing huge logs so as to create bridges. He appreciated the elephants’ intelligence and the skill of their Burmese oozies, or handlers.

Alastair Paterson and his sister Mary were born in Glasgow to Duncan McKellar Paterson and Lavinia Paterson (nee Craig). His father had served in the 17th Battalion, the Highland Light Infantry, the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Battalion, during the First World War.

The family lived in King’s Park Avenue, Cathcart. He spent childhood holidays in Millport, where he learned to sail, and at his mother’s childhood home in Randalstown in County Antrim.

He was educated at The High School of Glasgow and the Royal College of Science and Technology (now the University of Strathclyde) from where he graduated in 1944, receiving a Diploma in Engineering Science (with distinction), and ARCST in Civil Engineering. That same year he also received a BSc Eng, with first-class honours, from the University of Glasgow.

Before leaving for Burma, he found his transport ship was moored in the Clyde estuary, close to his family home, but he had no means of contacting them. Before being sent out he had spent time in the REME workshop in Bridgend, South Wales where he met his future wife, Betty Hannah Burley, known as Jill. They married in 1947, a partnership which lasted until Jill’s death in January 2008.

He achieved the rank of major at the age of 22 and gained the position of deputy assistant director, mechanical engineering (North Burma and China). When Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, the Japanese officer who was his opposite number in North Burma surrendered his sword to him. Paterson later donated this Samurai sword to the Royal Engineers’ Museum in Gillingham, Kent.

Back home, and having worked for Scottish Hydro Electric in Scotland, he joined Merz & McLellan in 1947, working first in Aberdeen, where his and Jill’s first child, Lucy, was born in September 1948.

The family then moved to Surrey, where he joined the firm’s Esher office. In 1958, he moved to Taylor Woodrow, where he worked with Frank Gibb on nuclear power stations, including Dungeness B, and on other projects such as large dams.

In 1960, he was invited to join the partnership FR Bullen & Partners, Consulting Engineers, to open its new office in Glasgow. There, in 1962, he advised on how best to resolve foundation problems and rock cracking on the north side of the Forth Road Bridge, which at that time was under construction.

In 1966, he moved to its offices in Croydon, rising to become senior partner in the late-1960s, when the firm changed its name to Bullen & Partners. During this period the firm, led by Paterson, was the consulting engineer on part of the Suez Canal at Port Said, a new port at Sapele, Nigeria, projects in Saudi Arabia and Oman and, closer to home and on a smaller scale, a new bridge at Caernarfon.

He led the firm into an expanding practice covering civil, structural, and highway engineering. Sixteen years after his retirement, in 2005, Bullen & Partners was incorporated into Faber Maunsell.

In 1989, the year of his retirement, he was elected to become a member of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers and was made an Honorary Doctor of Science at the University of Strathclyde.

He was fortunate in being able to live at home in West Wittering, in West Sussex, until the last few weeks of his life when he was admitted to hospital following a fall.

A modest man, he was successful both professionally and personally. He was a kind and loving husband and father, and will be much missed by his family and friends.

He is survived by his children Lucy, Duncan, Alasdair and Rosalind, 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. His sister, Mary, pre-deceased him in 2014.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992