Donald Cecil Pack


Born: 14 April 1920 in Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, England
Died: 3 December 2016 in Bearsden, Glasgow, Scotland

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Donald Pack's parents were John Cecil Pack and Minnie Spavins. John Cecil Pack was a shoe machine operator living at 24 College Street, Higham Ferrers, the son of Arthur George Pack, a commercial traveller. Minnie Spavins, who worked in the shoe trade, lived at 72 Harborough Road, Rushden. She was the daughter of Hezekiah Spavins, a pressroom foreman. Here is a description of their wedding as it appeared in a local newspaper:-
On Christmas Day 1914 at the Congregational Church, Rushden, the wedding took place of Miss Minnie Spavins (age 24), second daughter of Mr and Mrs Hezekial Spavins, of Harborough-road, Rushden, and Mr John Cecil Pack, second son of Councillor and Mrs A Pack, of Higham Ferrers. The Rev C J Keeler was the officiating minister. The bride, charmingly attired in white silk with a bridal veil, carried a bouquet of lilies of the valley, tulips, and chrysanthemums. She was given away by her father. Four bridesmaids attended - Miss Ethel Spavins, sister of the bride, wore a dress of marine blue velvet, the Misses Elsie and Florence Pack, sisters of the bridegroom, were suitably attired in white silk. Miss Lily Wood, friend of the bride, wore a dress of saxe blue satin, all the bridesmaids wearing black hats with white feathers. They each also wore a gold pendant, the gift of the bridegroom. Mr A Pack, brother of the bridegroom carried on the duties of best man. Mr W L Sargent officiated at the organ, and gave a spirited rendering of the Wedding March. A reception was subsequently held in the Congregational Schoolrooms, about 70 guests being present. Mr and Mrs Pack were the recipients of many valuable presents.
We note that Higham Ferrers and Rushden were adjacent towns which today have almost merged into one. Donald's early years were spent in Higham Ferrers where he attended the Primary School. He was interested in music from a very young age and by the age of eight years he had learnt to read music. In 1930, at the age of ten, he won a scholarship to Wellingborough School, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. This boarding school, founded in 1595, is one of the oldest schools in England. It had moved to a new site in 1881 and there, as well as the strong academic teaching, Donald was able to enjoy the sporting emphasis with a new pavilion being opened on the playing fields one year before he began his studies there. He enjoyed soccer, cricket and tennis and represented the school in all three sports. He also enjoyed the musical side of the school too, becoming leader of the school orchestra. In his final year at the school, 1937-38, he was Head Boy. Of the academic subjects, he enjoyed mathematics most and he sat the Oxford Scholarship examinations winning a College Open Major Scholarship, in addition to a State Scholarship, to study mathematics at New College, Oxford.

Pack matriculated at New College, Oxford, in 1938 but before he began his second year of studies, World War II broke out in September 1939. At this time Pack was nineteen years of age and so eligible for military service as were all men between the ages of 18 and 41. However, Pack was one of only four mathematics undergraduates who were told to continue their education at Oxford and complete their degree course before beginning war service. Pack, therefore, continued his studies and was awarded a BA with First Class Honours in mathematics in 1941. After graduating, he was told to go to the Mathematical Laboratory in Cambridge and, as a Science officer, he worked for the Ordinance Board on calculations for anti-aircraft ballistics. After a year at Cambridge working in the Mathematical Laboratory, in 1942 Pack was awarded a BA by the University of Cambridge. After this year at Cambridge, Pack was sent to the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment at Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks, Kent, where he was Scientific officer, Ministry of Supply.

At Fort Halstead, Pack joined a team led by Nevill Mott (1905-1996), working on problems involving armaments and set up to advise military designers on problems relating to explosives, fragmentation bombs, the attack and defence of tanks and other similar problems. Among his colleagues with whom he collaborated were Rodney Hill (1921-2017), W M Evans, H J James as well as Nevill Mott. They produced theoretical research reports for the Armament Research Department and, after the end of the war, these were published in journals. You can see the titles, 'Abstracts' and some 'Introductions' to these papers at THIS LINK.

In 1944 Mott was attached to the British Army of the Rhine as an acting captain, and carried out scientific work in Germany. He remained in Germany until late 1946 and, in January 1947, he was appointed as a lecturer at University College, Dundee, at that time part of the University of St Andrews. Later that year, on Wednesday 19 November 1947, Pack married Constance Mary Gillam (1922-2010), known as Connie. Connie was also on the staff of the mathematics department in Dundee being, like Pack, an Oxford graduate. She had authored the paper The Van der Waals force between a proton and a hydrogen atom. II, Excited states with Charles Coulson which was published in 1947. The professor at University College, Dundee, was Edward Copson so Donald and Connie asked him if they could have the day off to get married. Copson replied that was not possible, but if they gave their lectures in the morning they could have the afternoon off. Few couples can both have given a lecture on the morning of their wedding! Donald and Connie Pack had three children, John Richard Pack, Alan Donald Pack, and Catherine Mary Pack.

Pack had never studied for a Ph.D. since he had gone straight from being an undergraduate to undertake war work. This had meant that his research topics were determined by the needs of wartime research and he continued to work in associated areas for the rest of his career. While working in Dundee he submitted a thesis for a D.Sc. and in 1951 he was awarded the degree by the University of St Andrews. The award of a Fulbright Travel Award allowed him to spend the year 1951-52 at the University of Maryland in the United States as a Visiting Research Associate. There he worked on supersonic shock waves and jets, publishing papers in this area such as (with S I Pai) Similarity laws for supersonic flows (1954), Laminar flow in an axially symmetrical jet of compressible fluid, far from the orifice (1954), and (with A G Mackie) Transonic flow past finite wedges (1955). Returning to Britain after his year in the United States, Pack was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Manchester taking up the position in the autumn of 1952. Not long after he had been appointed, he was informed that the University were paying him too much for someone only 32 years old. This meant that he felt that he was not being disloyal when, soon after this incident, he applied for the chair of mathematics at the Glasgow Royal Technical College.

The Glasgow Royal Technical College that Pack had joined was an ancient institution, founded in 1796 as the Andersonian Institute. Known as Anderson's University from 1828 to 1887, it was renamed the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College in 1887, and then the Royal Technical College in 1912. The Mathematics Department that Pack headed was small, consisting of only six members of staff, and before Pack's appointment it undertook no research, offered no degree in mathematics, and only provided service teaching for other science and engineering departments. Adam McBride explains how Pack transformed the Mathematics Department [4]:-

Donald set in train two processes which led to the evolution of the department into its present form as the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Strathclyde. Firstly, based on his own experience, he felt that the time was ripe for a course for Mathematics students who wanted to work in industry. He therefore established a four-year Honours course in Applied Mathematics which led to an Associateship of the Royal Technical College. This course contained two features which were novel at the time. At the end of the third year, students were to undertake a 6-month placement in an industrial or scientific establishment. Then after their final written exams in April of fourth year, students were to embark on a major project during the long vacation, at the conclusion of which they had to produce a substantial report. Although the industrial placement has long gone, the various B.Sc. Honours degrees now offered by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics still contain a project, albeit of much more modest proportions. The second innovation was the initiation of a research culture in the Department. Donald set up a group studying transonic flow which soon gained international recognition, not least by the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research which provided funding over a period of almost 10 years. In the early 60s, Donald's research interests moved into the areas of non-equilibrium flow and rarefied gas dynamics.
The Royal Technical College had become the Royal College of Science and Technology in 1956 but it soon began to plan to gain university status and for this Pack's building a research environment was exactly what was required. In 1964 the institution changed its name yet again when it became the University of Strathclyde. In the ten years that he had led the Department, Pack had changed it from one doing essentially no research into the leading Applied Mathematics department in Scotland. On the university level, he served as Vice-Principal from 1968 to 1972. During his career he published over 50 top quality papers, and it is interesting to note that after he retired in 1982 his publication rate increased with joint papers, many with J Mika and Bob Cole (the author of [1] and [2]). These include The development of bivariational principles for the calculation of upper and lower bounds (1983), Upper and lower bounds of bilinear functionals in nonlinear problems (1984), Complementary bounds for inner products associated with nonlinear equations (1984), Optimal bounds for bilinear forms associated with linear equations (1985), Approximation to inverses of normal operators (1986) and Application of the superconvergence properties of the Galerkin approximation to the calculation of upper and lower bounds for linear functionals of solutions of integral equations (1987).

During his career Pack made visits to a number of different European institutions. For example, he was a Guest Professor at the Technische Universität in Berlin in 1967, at Bologna University in 1980 and, in the same year, at the Politecnico Milano. In the following year of 1981 he was a guest professor at the Technische Hochschule of Darmstadt. He also held various other visiting appointments such as at the University of Warsaw in 1977. He made particularly important visits to Kaiserslautern in 1980 and again in 1984 where he was able to continue a long-term collaboration with Helmut Neunzert. Other European links came though his membership of Gesellschaft für Angewandte Mathematics und Mechanik, serving as a council member in 1977-1983 and as an honorary fellow of the European Consortium for Mathematics in Industry which he received in 1988 after being proposed by Helmut Neunzert.

We must mention the number of important roles that Pack played in supporting school mathematics in Scotland. He served as a member of the Dunbartonshire Education Committee from 1960 to 1966; he served on the General Teaching Council for Scotland from 1966 to 1973; he was chairman of Scottish Certificate of Education Examination Board from 1969 to 1977; and he chaired the Committee of Inquiry into Truancy and Indiscipline in Schools in Scotland for three years from 1974 which produced Pack Report. On a UK level, he played an important role in the founding of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications in 1964, and was the first treasurer of the Institute from its founding in 1964 until 1972. Pack was awarded a OBE for his services to education in 1969 and, nine years later in 1978, he was awarded a CBE, also for services to education.

At the very start of his career, Pack was directed towards military applications of mathematics due to World War II. He continued throughout his career to support the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment at Fort Halstead, which later was renamed the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). He was a visiting fellow at the DERA from 1999 to 2001. He also served on the Defence Scientific Advisory Council from 1975 to 1980 and he was a consultant to the Ministry of Defence from 1984 to 2001.

We mentioned Pack's love of music at the beginning of this biography but we should say more about this since he made some remarkably important contributions. First let us recount a delightful story from [4]:-

Donald was on one of his frequent trips to Germany and heard someone upstairs playing the piano. He decided to introduce himself to the pianist who turned out to be none other than the theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg, famous for his Uncertainty Principle. Donald fetched his violin and the two of them ended up playing duets.
Pack was only ever an amateur violinist, playing for pleasure, but for many years he enjoyed playing in a string quartet in his own home. However, his role with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland is very important. He served as founding chairman of the Orchestra from 1978 to 1988 and as honorary President from 1988 until his death. It was in December 1978 that Pack received the first £5000 instalment of a £20000 pump-priming grant from the Carnegie Trust and formally announced the founding of the Orchestra. Nigel Kennedy, now a world famous violinist, performed with the Orchestra in December 1981. Percussionist Evelyn Glennie (now Dame Evelyn Glennie) featured in the Orchestra's winter tour of 1987. Ten years later, in April 1997, Nicola Benedetti was orchestra leader of the National Children's Orchestra of Scotland. Nicola Benedetti was the soloist for the summer tour of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland in 2012. Pack and his wife usually travelled with the Orchestra when they made tours. He was a member of the European Music Year Committee and served as chairman of the Scottish subcommittee from 1982 to 1986. He was invited to take up this role by Sir William Rees-Mogg, Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. He organised many of the Scottish events of the European Music Year 1985 in Scotland, in particular a concert given by Scottish schoolchildren in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on 21 June 1985.

Although music was Pack's greatest hobby, he also enjoyed gardening and golf. He was a devoted family man who, by the last years of his life, had his children, his six grandchildren and his five great grandchildren. Bob Cole writes:-

In his later years, his sight and hearing suffered, but not his sharp mind and impressive memory. He was at heart a humble man.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson


List of References (4 books/articles)

Mathematicians born in the same country

Additional Material in MacTutor

  1. Donald Pack's wartime papers
  2. Origins of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications
  3. Obituary: Scotsman

Honours awarded to Donald Pack
(Click below for those honoured in this way)
1. Lecturer at the EMS 
2. EMS President 1962

Other Web sites
  1. MathSciNet Author profile


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JOC/EFR May 2017
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School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

The URL of this page is:
http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Pack.html