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Remembering Bob and Morag Stewart

Remembering Bob and Morag Stewart, the namesake of the Stewart Laboratory.

The University of Strathclyde is proud to honour the memory and legacy of Bob and Morag Stewart.


Time at The Royal College of Science and Technology

Alumnus Dr Robert J Stewart graduated with distinction in Applied Chemistry from the Royal College of Science and Technology, in 1952. During his studies, Bob threw himself into life as a Strathclyder participating in extra-curricular activities.  Including being editor of the Student Representative Council magazine ‘the Mask’.  Bob was also President of the Student Council during his final year. It was also during his time in Glasgow that he met his wife to be Morag, who was a student at the nearby Royal Infirmary.  After graduating from ‘The Tech’, Bob and Morag moved to Canada where Bob studied at the University of Toronto, first for a Masters of Applied Science and then for a PhD, both of which he completed with distinction.


After completing his studies, Bob worked with Union Carbide in Canada as a Research Chemist.  He carried out pioneering work in the area of polyethylene production. His scientific and technical abilities, that were underpinned by his learning at the ‘Tech’, were soon recognised when he was first of all promoted to the position of director of R&D polyethylene films, then to assistant plant manager for polyethylene and cellulose production, and finally to general manager of the films division of Union Carbide.

Throughout his 25 years with the company Bob gained a lot of valuable managerial and business experience and this he subsequently put to good use when in 1980 he acquired Andrew Merrilees Ltd and the affiliated companies.

Andrew Merrilees was a company which specialised in railway supplies. After Bob took over the company it grew by over 300% in volume and expanded. The company became the premier independent new rail and used locomotive supplier in Canada.   Also provided services in the USA and the Far East.


Roots in Glasgow

But with all the success Bob and Morag achieved in Canada, they fondly remembered their roots embedded in Glasgow. Their years in Glasgow were extremely happy ones.  This was the foundation for the start of a successful and satisfying career and life together. 

Bob and Morag have shown their appreciation for all that they gained during their time in Glasgow.  Giving back to the University at every opportunity. Bob was the founding member of the University Alumni group in Toronto which aims to further the interests of the University in Canada and to connect Strathclyde graduates with one another.

Donations to Strathclyde University 

At the north end of the Barony Hall, where University graduations and special events are held, the magnificent stained glass windows, pew, and arch were restored with the aid of a donation from Bob and Morag in 1991.

They have also sought to elevate the student experience and to introduce new learning opportunities for future generations of Strathclyders. And it is within the department of Pure and Applied Chemistry that the unstinting generosity of Bob and Morag Stewart shines most brightly. During the many visits to Glasgow throughout their lifetimes, they were passionate ambassadors for the department.  Bob and Morag always sought to make a tangible difference.  

The donation has allowed improved, modernised and new experiments to be introduced into the laboratory every few years.  For each of them the department would always discuss with Bob, Morag and their son Robert what we wanted to do and then we kept them informed about the progress and development.

One of the first experiments was to illustrate the use of a hydrogen-powered fuel cell as a low carbon source of energy.  Bob was really chuffed with this experiment as the fuel cell was used to drive a small train on railway tracks, and the Andrew Merrilees logo was attached to the locomotive and some of the cars.

Another experiment is used to study how a surface interacts with water. Here students can study the science of how water sticks to or sheds from numerous surfaces.  Many undergraduate experiments are a series of steps that students follow rather like a recipe. One very different experiment that has been set up gives the basic background information about the technique and the equipment. Students are encouraged to think for themselves and to design their own experimental protocol.

The support and encouragement from Bob, Morag and Robert for those experiments and others has made a tremendous contribution to enhancing the knowledge and learning of chemistry students.  In 1995, Bob was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of the University in recognition of Bob and Morag’s profound support.  And a year later a new combined applied and physical chemistry lab, situated within the University’s Thomas Graham Building, was named the Stewart Laboratory.


Bob and Morag's Parting Gift

Sadly, Bob passed away in 2007 and Morag in 2020. Upon her passing, the University was humbled to be informed that they had left a significant gift.  This will ensure the Stewart laboratory continues to provide a setting for our undergraduate students to thrive in.  Access to the latest equipment and experimental facilities. 

The University is thrilled to continue the relationship with Robert. Robert has shown the same enthusiasm that his father and mother had for the practical teaching of Chemisty.

Thanks to Bob and Morag, the Stewart Laboratory is inspiring the next generation of students to develop practical skills. Through their commitment to Strathclyde and visionary philanthropy, Bob and Morag Stewart have had an inestimable impact upon the University. Their legacy will continue at Strathclyde for many generations to come.

Written by the University of Strathcylde
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