Imperial College London

Mr John A. Pickford (Civil Engineering 1943)

Source: The Times, 29 November 2006

John Pickford, OBE, engineer, was born on December 28, 1924. He died on September 19, 2006, aged 81.

Mention water engineering and sanitation to experts in Asia, Africa or South America, and the first name they are likely to mention is that of John Pickford.

To many in the developing world, Loughborough University, where he was lecturer, professor and then head of the civil engineering department, is synonymous with the Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), which he founded in 1971.

This visionary organisation trains engineers and managers to create appropriate public health systems for communities all over the developing world, and provides a forum for the sharing of knowledge and experience. Pickford, who stressed that technology should focus on local concerns and cultures, has improved and even saved millions of lives through the organisation and its emphasis on clean water and effective sewerage.

John Pickford was born in South London in 1924 and gained an honours degree in engineering from Imperial College. He then spent four years in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and seven as an engineer for three local authorities.

In 1954 Pickford took his wife and family to Ghana (then the Gold Coast), where for six years he was the town engineer for Sekondi-Takoradi. After the family's return to England in 1960, Pickford spent the rest of his working life at Loughborough University.

In was in the years 1968 to 1971, after travels in West Africa and Asia, that Pickford developed the idea that would become WEDC. He realised that the water and sanitation engineering education that universities provided was overwhelmingly based on systems practised in Europe and North America. Other countries had different needs and with his colleague, Bill Moffat, he set out to meet them. A short summer school was followed by MSc courses. These have gone from strength to strength, as has an annual conference, organised by Pickford until well into what should have been his retirement.

Wherever he travelled in the world, Pickford joined in with gusto, bouncing into action on arrival. It was through the Boys' Brigade, for which he had a lifelong enthusiasm, that he met his wife, Daphne (the first woman elected to the brigade's national executive). Both were leaders in the brigade and in their local Methodist church, where Pickford was a lay preacher.

He was appointed OBE in 1984.

He is survived by his wife, their daughter and three sons.

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