Queen’s remembers Professor Emeritus John Downie
June 26, 2023
The Queen’s community is remembering John Downie, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemical Engineering, who died March 27 at the age of 91.
Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, John, like many other school-aged children during the Second World War, was moved out to the country to live with his grandparents. While he was more interested in playing football during these days, one of his teachers must have spotted his academic potential, as he made him write out chemical equations whenever he got into trouble.
John would attend Strathclyde University, earning a degree in chemical engineering. A day later he emigrated to Canada, following an offer to relocate from a childhood friend. He would first settle down in Montreal where he worked for a year as a chemist for Canada Packers. He was then on the move again and began graduate studies at the University of Toronto where he earned a master’s and PhD in chemical engineering. It was during this time that he met Mary Alice, his wife of 63 years.
Upon earning his doctorate, he moved to Pittsburgh to work for the Gulf Oil Research Institute for three and a half years.
In 1962 John returned to Canada to join the Department of Chemical Engineering at Queen's University where he spent his entire academic career apart from three memorable sabbaticals at the University of Cambridge.
John was regarded as an “extremely tough” professor, but also fair. During subsequent Homecomings, alumni would show up at the family home looking for Dr. Downie, to pay their respects.
John was a daily luncher at the Faculty Club, now the University Club. He felt strongly that it was important for faculty members to meet each other outside of the context of the classroom, and they had a club table where members were encouraged to come solo and interact with colleagues from other areas of study.
John also served in a number of administrative roles including Acting Dean, Department Head, and Head of the Faculty Association. He also provided faculty input during the design process of Dupuis Hall.