Ex-Brunel University lecturer and Greater London Council politician Peter Russell played a key role in founding science parks and Burley Village Heritage Trust
Respected academic and Greater London Council politician Peter Russell MBE – who played a pivotal role in founding the UK’s first science parks and Burley Village Heritage Trust – has died aged 86.
Born in April 1937 in Middlesex, Peter was raised in Harlington near the Fairey Aviation Company site where his father worked.
Peter’s family chose voluntary evacuation during the Second World War because the nearby factory was a target for German bombers.
The family lived in Monmouth and later Buckinghamshire before moving back to Harlington at the end of the war so Peter’s father could return to work at Fairey.
Peter attended Harlington Secondary School and fondly recalled watching the development of nearby Heathrow Airport. He and his friends were allowed onto the runway to touch and have their photos taken with the planes.
Aged 13, Peter joined Southall Technical College, gaining six O-levels and three A-levels before beginning an apprenticeship at Fairey, working on planes and surface-to-air missiles.
He did not finish his apprenticeship, however, choosing instead to read mathematics at Reading University. He later achieved an MTech from Brunel University and subsequently became a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications.
Peter married his childhood sweetheart Marie – whom he had known since he was three – during his last year of university in 1960. The couple went on to have three children together.
After graduating, Peter gained an education diploma and teacher’s certificate and went on to teach at West Ham College of Technology.
Peter later became interested in politics, winning a seat on the Greater London Council and becoming its youngest vice-chair in 1976.
He was appointed a mathematics lecturer at Brunel University in 1966 and managed its merger with Shoreditch College.
In 1986 he was appointed director of Brunel's Science Park, the first campus-based example at a UK university, and held the post until his retirement in 2002.
Peter was a founding director of the UK Science Park Association and was its chair for two years. A Brunel University building is now named after him.
During a 2016 interview, Peter recalled borrowing money at personal risk to fund the construction of science park buildings on university land. The companies founded there developed medical products, including one of the first ever stents for use in heart operations.
Peter developed other science parks in the UK and cultivated a relationship with former science minister Lord Sainsbury, who was supportive of the science parks initiatives.
Peter was sent by the government to other countries to extol the virtues of science parks, including the Netherlands, Russia, China and Sri Lanka.
In 1972 Peter and his family went camping at Brockenhurst and became enamoured with a new housing development in Bransgore, moving there with his family in 1991.
Marie passed away in 1999 and, as Peter recovered from the loss, he became involved with Wessex Archives as they began developing oral history projects for villages.
Peter was inspired to begin an oral history project for Burley, eventually receiving a £50,000 grant from the National Lottery. The cash went towards buying cameras so the living histories could be recorded rather than just written.
The oral history project recorded 50 films, which were made part of the Winchester Archives and are also held by the British Film Institute.
Peter was a long-time supporter of ongoing plans to build a heritage centre in the village.
He said that during 2003 he “fell in love again” with Burley resident Karen and the pair later married.
Peter was made an MBE in 2007 for his services to the people of Uxbridge, where he was a magistrate for 30 years. He was also chair of housing charity Abbeyfield for around 30 years.
Peter died in June with Karen at his side. He also leaves behind two children, Andrew and Sandra.