Obituary: Professor V. S. Griffiths
Wednesday 25 November 1998
"Griff" Griffiths was admired as a man of the people. No matter how high or low, how major or minor the problem, each person had his undivided attention and interest, nothing was too difficult for his consideration.
A humble upbringing as the last child, born in 1919, in the large family of a canal wharfage contractor did not prevent him gaining a scholarship to County School at Isleworth, Middlesex, followed by work for British Colloids at the Crookes laboratories. Evening classes enabled him to study chemistry.
He had joined the Territorial Army and was immediately called up on the outbreak of the Second World War. Captured at Dunkirk in 1940, Griffiths spent the next five years as a POW; he felt that he then learned much about people.
In 1946 he resumed his study of chemistry at Battersea Polytechnic. He gained first class honours from London University in 1948, and married the same year. The immediate offer of a lectureship at Battersea made it possible for him to pursue research. The majority of his equipment was begged, borrowed and second-hand but this did not prevent many published papers of practical results which were frequently applied on the factory floor, some for electroplating in the car industry.
Battersea became a College of Advanced Technology (CAT) in 1956 and Griffiths was appointed as a governor. In rapid succession he established the Department of Spectroscopy and Chemical Physics, and was appointed a professor.
In 1966 Battersea was elevated to university status, and the decision was made to move to Guildford, as Surrey University. The Principal, Peter Leggett, volunteered Griffiths and three other members of staff to oversee the planning of the new university, and completing the move to Guildford, all in two years.
Griffiths was the natural leader of the group and, largely through his efforts and enthusiasm, good relations were established with the citizens of Guildford, the buildings were planned and erected and the move successfully completed. At times there were insufficient funds to complete projects and at these moments of crisis Griffiths would disappear to see someone he knew and use his persuasive powers to find the money. He never failed.
The actual opening of the university depended on the successful completion of an underpass of the A3. There were delays in the project and it seemed likely that the opening would be delayed. Griffiths went to see the managing director of the construction company; more men appeared, overtime was worked and the underpass was completed with one day to spare.
Life became no easier for him once the university had moved. He was appointed Pro Vice-Chancellor in 1968 and dealt with all matters ranging from governance, unions, students and any other problems referred to him. He was reappointed in 1971 and his continued success in post led to a permanent appointment in 1975.
Retirement saw a change of direction in his interests but no lessening in efforts for other people. He helped with the administration of homes for the mentally handicapped and assisted young people who were on probation.
Victor Sydney Griffiths, chemical physicist and university administrator: born Brentford, Middlesex 17 August 1919; Lecturer in Chemistry, Battersea Polytechnic (later College of Advanced Technology, then Surrey University) 1948-55, Senior Lecturer in Spectrographic Analysis 1955-57, Reader 1957- 64, Professor of Spectroscopy and Chemical Physics 1964-82, Pro Vice-Chancellor 1968-82; married 1948 (one son, one daughter); died London 27 October 1998.
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