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Williams, Sir Alwyn, 1921-2004, Knight, geologist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Sir Alwyn Williams was born in 1921, in Aberdare, Glamorgan, Wales, and educated at Aberdare Boy's Grammar School. An attack of tuberculosis, in 1939 ended his initial intention to join the Fleet Air Arm, and on leaving hospital he entered the University College of Wales on an open scholarship. He graduated with first class honours in Geology in 1943, and in 1946 gained his Ph.D. In his last year as a student he served as national Vice-President of the National Union of Students.

In 1948, he accepted the post of Lecturer in Geology at Glasgow University, but was granted two years leave to take up a Harkness Fund Fellowship at the United States National Museum in Washington, D.C. He resumed his position of Lecturer at Glasgow, in 1950.

In 1954, Williams moved to Belfast to fill the Chair of Geology in the Queen's University of Belfast. While at Belfast, he began to become more involved in university administration, and in 1967, became Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen's. In 1974, he was appointed to the Lapworth Chair of Geology, at Birmingham University.

In 1976, he accepted the Principalship of the University of Glasgow, which he held for the rest of his career. His tenure as Principal was dominated by financial problems, with constant cuts in the University's income, which at times seemed to threaten the very fabric of the institution. However, Williams was shrewd enough to use the situation to modernise the University and change attitudes to teaching and research.

He did his best to continue to attract the best scholars to replace retiring Professors, diverting resources and promoting promising young researchers. He put particular importance in building up the University's computer facilities, creating a second Chair in computing science, with the promise of further appointments and a refurbished building. He grasped the importance of new technology to the future of the country, and it was an issue which he would refer to throughout his time in office. As a result there was a flurry of new technology initiatives across the campus.

Williams retired in 1988, and returned to academic life as a geologist. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and of the Geological Society, and was a member of the Royal Irish Academy.



Other Significant Information


Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1950-1954: Lecturer in Geology, University of Glasgow

1954: Professor of Geology, Queen's University of Belfast

1967: Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University of Belfast

1974-1976: Professor of Geology, Birmingham University

1976-1988: Principal, University of Glasgow


List of sources for the biographical information:

Moss, Munro, and Trainor, University, City and State: The University of Glasgow since 1870, (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2000)

, The College Courant, Vol.28, No.56, (Glasgow, University of Glasgow, 1976)

Rules or Conventions

Authority record created according to the National Council on ArchivesRules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names (NCA Rules)1997 and International Council on Archives: Ad Hoc Committee on Descriptive StandardsInternational Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (ISAAR)CPF1995

Author and Date of Biographical History

Personal name authority record compiled for the GASHE project by John O'Brien, Glasgow University Archive Services, 4 September 2002