William McFarlane Dow, MA. BSc. FRAS (1923-2013)
Bill Dow, our Honorary Vice President, died on 20 June, just weeks short of his 90th birthday. His father was an engineer, his mother a primary teacher, and he had a sister Sheila, now deceased, also a primary teacher. Bill was educated at Morgan Academy, Dundee, then entered St Andrews University to study physics and astronomy, but the war interrupted his studies and he enlisted in the RAF. He wanted to become a pilot, but his colour-blindness ruled this out. He tried to outwit the sight tests, but the crafty medics caught him out, and he became a navigator, flying in Mosquitos. He suffered a serious accident, not in combat, which damaged his spleen but he enjoyed good health well into old age.
After the war he resumed at St Andrews, taking his BSc with 2nd class honours in physics then stayed on to receive an MA with 1st class honours in psychology. After teacher training he became a physics master back at Morgan Academy. In the 1960s he moved on to be senior lecturer in physics at Dundee College of Education. He was a brilliant and inspiring teacher, especially in 6th form to whom he introduced particle physics and electronics. Among those who enjoyed his classes were DAS members Dave Gavine, Frank Mitchell and Dr Peter Waddell, not forgetting Professor Malcolm Longair CBE FRS, former Astronomer Royal for Scotland then Jacksonian Professor of Physics at Cambridge, and many other distinguished scientists. When the physics got a bit tedious we used to try to lure Bill off the subject by mentioning something to do with aircraft, then off he would go at a tangent, with planes and RAF stories, but always with a scientific slant.
In 1956 Harry Ford, Frank and Dave started up Dundee Astronomical Society but had no idea about how such a club might work, so advice was sought from the most obvious “leader” and Bill agreed to become our first President, serving for the first two years. He showed us how to conduct meetings, keep minutes and organise talks, then during the IGY 1957-58 he got a short-wave radio set so that we could pick up the signals from Sputniks 1 and 2. When the Society planned its auroral observatory on Powrie Brae Bill paid for most of the building materials (mostly from scrap-yards, we weren’t well-off) out of his own pocket, arranged transport in his car and was often on hand to lay bricks and concrete. In the mid-60s Bill’s career left him little spare time so he was less active in the Society but after he retired he was always willing to give inspiring and thought-provoking talks until about two years ago when his health began to deteriorate. At the Society’s 50th anniversary celebrations he was elected our Honorary Vice-President. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1969.
Bill married mathematics teacher Sandra Moir, a family friend and incidentally one of his former senior pupils, and they had four sons then grandchildren. It has been a great privilege to know Bill Dow, through whose influence the Astronomical Society flourishes to this day.