Roger Ainsworth obituary

Other lives: Distinguished engineer who became master of St Catherine’s College, Oxford

My friend Roger Ainsworth, who has died aged 67 of cancer, was a distinguished engineer who worked first at Rolls-Royce and then for the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE), before in 2002 becoming master of St Catherine’s College, Oxford.

Roger was born in Morecambe, Lancashire, to Harold Ainsworth, a civil servant, and his wife, Mary (nee Reynolds). After Lancaster Royal grammar school he completed an apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce and then went to Jesus College, Oxford, where he won a first-class degree in engineering in 1973 and then a doctorate in 1976.

Returning to Rolls-Royce, he spent a year as a research section leader, working on jet engines, before moving to the AERE in Harwell, Oxfordshire, in 1977, working in its engineering services division until 1985.

After that he was back in Oxford, with posts at St Catherine’s and the university, becoming professor of engineering science in 1998. He served the university in many roles – as a member of council, senior proctor and pro vice-chancellor, and as the chair of the Voltaire Foundation and a delegate of Oxford University Press.

As chair of the university’s building committee he oversaw a 13-year £750m building programme. But it was the students of St Catherine’s who were particularly dear to him, and he always felt that the most important part of his work – and the aspect that he enjoyed the most – was encouraging them.

In the wider community he was a governor of two independent schools in Oxfordshire, the Dragon school and Abingdon school, and chaired the Oxford Preservation Trust. He received many honours, including fellowships of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Learned Society of Wales, plus a knighthood of the Danish Order of the Dannebrog, in recognition of his promotion of the work of the Danish architect Arne Jacobsen, who designed St Catherine’s.

Roger came into my life about four years ago, when he and his wife, Sarah (nee Pilkington), a social worker, bought our house in St Davids, Pembrokeshire. It is rare that buying and selling a property can be described as a pleasure, but Roger, with whom my partner, Peter, and I had most contact, made it so. Best of all, we forged a good and lasting friendship.

He married Sarah in 1978. She survives him, along with their three children, Tom, Emily and Harriet, and two grandchildren, Santiago and Idris.

Jane Wadkin

The GuardianTramp

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