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William John French 1934-2015

World expert in concrete studies, stalwart of the Geologists’ Association and founder of Geomaterials Research Ltd.

FrenchBill French was born on 17 August 1934 and graduated First Class in Geology at Nottingham University in 1956 under Professor WD Evans and often told stories of Evans’s bizarre and exciting experiments. 

Bill did postgraduate research at King’s College London under Wally Pitcher, studying the lamprophyres, intrusion breccias and appinitic bosses around the Ardara pluton, Co. Donegal, which he concluded were petrogenetically related to the pluton.  He was a Research Demonstrator in Cardiff in 1959–61 during which he completed his PhD.  In 1961 he became an Assistant Lecturer in the Geology Department, Queen Mary College London (QMC), teaching petrology and remained at QMC until retirement, becoming a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer and a teacher in the Geomaterials taught MSc. 


In 1983 the Department dissolved, part joining Geography as an Applied Earth Science Group with Bill as Director and he continued as Director when the Group moved to the Engineering Faculty as the Geomaterials Unit in 1988.  In 1992 he stood down as Director but still taught until 1998.

Bill became a Fellow in 1957, was a Secretary (1982–5) and Treasurer (1985–9) of the Society and was, with Robin Cocks, a strong supporter of the then President, Leake, in making the Society its own publisher in 1987, finding the capital to buy the premises in Bath.

Bill served the Geologists’ Association (GA) faithfully and enthusiastically for decades, being General Secretary 1978–82, President, 2002–04 and was on its Council and serving in many roles for ~30 years, receiving the Foulerton Award in 1986.  He and Clive Bishop saved the GA in 1978 (and Douglas Grant the Proceedings) in its financial crisis when, four sets of membership records, scattered around the country, all incomplete, revealed some members still paying £1 a year by standing order - when this had not been the subscription for 19 years!  This situation had arisen from having no office or any staff - remedied in 1979 when the Society first rented an office to the GA.  In 2002, Bill was pivotal in launching the new GA Magazine as he did all the computer typesetting for the initial volumes.


Bill’s main contribution was in the important field of concrete studies.  He became an expert on concrete corrosion and, while retaining his academic post, with Alan B Poole and E Vivian Tucker (and QMC approval), set up the firm Geomaterials Research Ltd in Billericay (where he lived) to undertake assessments of bridges and other concrete structures suffering corrosion and requiring remedial action.  He undertook substantial research into the mechanisms of concrete breakdown, which he taught in Applied Mineralogy and in the Geomaterials MSc course.  On retiring in 1998, the firm was given to its employees.

He died on 1 November 2015 leaving a son, Roland James and a daughter, Caroline Elizabeth (by his first wife, Valera Vida d.1988), two granddaughters, Chloe and Emma, and his second wife, Joan, who is thanked for providing information.

By Bernard Elgey Leake, Clive Bishop & Alan Poole