John Owen obituary

·2 min read

My father, John Owen, who has died aged 90, was among the electrical engineers who developed the electron microscope and later became a British and international standards officer.

John was born in Liverpool and grew up in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, the son of Ethel (nee Grain), a teacher, and John Owen, a tailor’s cutter and a Co-operative and Labour party councillor.

After attaining the best Higher School Certificate for science in his year from Burton grammar school, he gained a physics degree (1952) at the University of Birmingham. Then at the Manchester College of Technology (which later became Umist), he qualified with the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

He was apprenticed to Metropolitan Vickers (now part of the the General Electric Company), in Trafford Park, to work as a part of the team that developed a new electron microscope. In 1967 John was transferred to the fledgling new town of Harlow to continue working on it in a new factory to meet international demand.

In 1974 he began a long and successful career with the British Standards Institution (BSI) in London, where, eight years later, he was made a principal technical officer. It suited him perfectly, combining his meticulous demand for accuracy and detail, his desire to make the world a safer place, and his ability to work collaboratively with others. He travelled around the globe developing and agreeing standards as part of international standards committees.

Retiring from the BSI in 1994, he took over the secretariat of two International Standards Organisation committees, funded by the Environment Agency and the Department of Trade and Industry, concerned with water flow in open channels – rivers and streams, notches, weirs and flumes. His work helped standardise the technical ways used to measure water flow; this was necessary to test water levels to avoid impacts such as flooding.

Aside from his intelligence and hard work, John was a modest, quiet, kind and unselfish man. He adored being a father and a grandfather. He brought up his three daughters to think that men and women really were equal – he was equally at ease rewiring the house as kneading a batch of loaves. The latter he continued to do weekly until three weeks before his death.

In 1957 he married Elaine Cartwright. She survives him, along with their three daughters, Rosalind, Laura and me, seven grandchildren, and his younger brother, Ray.

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