Obituary: Frank Chorley

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The Independent Online
Francis Kenneth Chorley, engineer: born London 29 July 1926; staff, Plessey Company 1951-60; Technical Director, Epsylon Industries 1960-63; Divisional Manager, GEC Electronics Ltd 1963-64; Director and General Manager and Managing Director, GEC-AEI Electronics Ltd 1964-67, GEC-AEI Telecommunications Ltd 1967-74; Managing Director, Plessey Avionics and Communications Division 1974-78; Managing Director and Deputy Chairman, Plessey Electronics Systems Ltd 1979-83; CBE 1982; Executive Chairman, Plessey Telecommunications and Office Systems Ltd 1983-86; Deputy Chief Executive, The Plessey Co plc 1983-86; married 1954 Lorna Brooks (two sons); died London 19 March 1993.

FRANK CHORLEY was a driving force in the fields of radar, information technology and communications. He had a remarkable career with GEC and Plessey, and scaled the heights in the electronics and international business world.

During his early days at Rutlish School, Merton, Frank Chorley was seen as an energetic and highly intelligent all-rounder who would lead wherever he chose to operate. He chose engineering.

His Royal Air Force service in the closing years of the war brought Chorley a personal understanding of radar, and what ground radar should provide - a knowledge he put to use in his direction of various radar-system developments within Plessey which were well ahead of their time. Chorley was a great innovator. New techniques provoke criticism and he had his critics. But with great composure he persuaded his opponents by fact and logic, and never took umbrage at criticism.

It was not only in the radar field that Chorley tackled extraordinarily difficult problems, but also in military and civil communications. He moved through various important posts to the main board of the Plessey company at a time of great international challenge, when technology really began to revolutionise communications worldwide.

He was able to understand the marketplace and the technology, to interpret the implications for his colleagues and to make difficult decisions. He showed his resilience and brilliance in tackling the enormous 'System X' project which laid the foundations of modern computer based telecommunications.

Chorley was a strong educationalist and from his wide industrial experience knew its value. The growing status of the engineer in Britain owes much to his efforts and example. He was tireless in his support and direction of training schemes, both inside industry and more formally outside, and worked to strengthen the bodies controlling the engineering profession which has been underrated for too long to the detriment of the country. As president of the Institution of Electronic and Radio Engineers (1987-88) he negotiated its amalgamation with the Institution of Electrical Engineers as part of his vision of a stronger British Engineering profession. He wished to strengthen it within the changing European scene. He accepted that there was still a long way to go, but his colleagues would agree that he helped set the direction for a vitally important profession in the UK.

After his retirement from the Plessey company in 1986, as Deputy Chief Executive, Chorley applied his experience to civil aviation as a board member of the Civil Aviation Authority and to the engineering profession as a member of the Engineering Council.

Frank Chorley found reward in his professional successes but he was honoured, too, by his election to the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1981, and by the award of the Prince Philip Medal of the City and Guilds of London Institute in 1983 - an award which he particulary valued as he had long served the institute, including on its council.

He was interested in practically everything and was able to make time for his interests in an exceptional way. An early pursuit was traditional jazz which he played with youthful exuberance, but he also took a close interest in the pupils of the Yehudi Menuhin School, whose recitals gave him great pleasure. He loved opera, theatre and music. He was a keen liveryman and enjoyed contact with the City of London and its history, yet was a devoted gardener and lover of the country and sea. His enthusiasm for things mechanical showed, when, encouraged by his wife Lorna, he would roar off on a powerful motorbike or in a Rolls or vintage sports car.

Frank Chorley was a happy family man who enjoyed his two sons and delighted in his two grandchildren. He was a warm and generous host. He practised his flair for photography wherever he went and brought back wonderful shots from his travels: from China or from his yacht in the Solent. He was a skilled offshore skipper, well versed in modern sea-going technology, competent in the worst conditions so that even Admirals felt confident with him in rough weather.

(Photograph omitted)

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