Glyn O Phillips: Tribute to World-leading Scientist, Welsh Internationalist and former WCIA Trustee
Written by WCIA Heritage Advisor Craig Owen
Many of WCIA’s long standing supporters, volunteers, trustees, and staff past and present are saddened to learn of the passing of scientist and lifelong internationalist Glyn Owen Phillips, one of the founding trustees of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs in 1973, and a flag bearer for Welsh Internationalism over 6 decades from the 1960s to today.
- View Obituary for Learned Society of Wales by Prof Peter Williams
- View Wrexham Leader Tribute by Joe Robinson
- View June 2007 Award Tribute by the Food Hydrocolloids Trust
- Glyn O Phillips’ Wikipedia Page (Cymraeg / Welsh)
Among his many contributions to Welsh Civil Society international movements, Glyn O Phillips was a driving force behind the ‘Freedom from Hunger Campaign’ from its founding in 1960 (joining the ‘Wales FFHC Committee’ from 1962, at the invitation of Chair Lady Brecon), to its transfer of global headquarters from London to Wales’ Temple of Peace in 1978, until FFHC‘s winding down and transfer into WCIA in 1997 (after which he remained a trustee of WCIA until 2012 – serving as Treasurer). FFHC supported over 57 development projects in 30 countries, as well as a further 30 development education initiatives, and was instrumental in shaping public opinion during the 1960s -70s in support of global development and aid – funding and supporting many UK international charities that remain household names today, such as Oxfam and Save the Children Fund.
Over periods he was also President of United Nations Association (UNA) Wales (1968-74) and Treasurer (1962-76), Chair (1977-80s) and President (1980s-97) of CEWC Cymru – the Welsh Council for Education in World Citizenship; a founder of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) from 1973 and Trustee until 2012, and one of the founders of Dolen Cymru, the Wales Lesotho Link, from 1985 (building on health and water projects he helped to start from 1979, for the UN International Year of the Child).
Born in 1927 as the son of a coal mining family in Rhosllanerchrugog, near Wrexham in Denbighshire, he remained humble throughout his life and often referenced his roots. Glyn gained a Chemistry BSc followed by Philosophy & Science PHDs from Bangor University during the years of World War 2, which shaped much of his world view on internationalism and the imperative for pro-active peace building. In 1954, he became a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at Cardiff University – becoming involved with Temple of Peace-based international charities UNA Wales, CEWC Cymru and the Freedom from Hunger Campaign (see below) – before taking up a Professorship of Chemistry at Salford University in 1967. He was editor of Welsh Scientific Journal Y Gwyddonydd from its first issue in 1963 to the last in 1996. In 1970, he was offered the opportunity to become founding Principal of the University of Benin in Nigeria, the first of many international roles.
Professor Glyn O Phillips is best known for his world-leading scientific research in the fields of Hydrocolloids and Nuclear Radiation, a fellow of the Learned Society of Wales with over 43 books and 600 academic papers to his name, and the first winner of the National Eisteddfod Science & Technology Medal in Newport, 2004. Through his academic career, he also advanced considerably Wales’ contribution to international relations and cooperation.
- Glyn O Phillips was called to Central Africa to help found the University of Benin in Nigeria – as its first Principal from 1970-73 – following the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970. In recognition of his support to development of Higher Education in the relatively recently independent Nigerian state, Glyn was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science by University of Benin in 1990.
- He returned to Wales by 1975 as the first Vice-Chancellor of NEWI, North East Wales Institute of Higher Education in Wrexham (now Glyndwr University) – where he spearheaded international work to develop and support Khartoum Polytechnic in Sudan, the National University of Lesotho and the Oman Technical Industrial College. NEWI also established an equipment support system for all the universities and polytechnics in Nigeria and Pakistan.
- From 1978, through Glyn’s trusteeship of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign, he was instrumental in overseeing the Bihar State Project in India – FFHC’s largest development programme, investing over £468k over a decade. This award winning programme – which shaped early sustainable development practice through partnership with local government and communities – remains in operation (since 1983) as the Bihar State Milk Cooperative Federation (known as COMFED, distributing today via community-based Sudha Milk Parlours).
- In 1979, Glyn coordinated a major academia-civil society conference on ‘Nuclear Power & Wales‘ with NEWI & the Welsh Council of Churches at Wales’ Temple of Peace, in an attempt to deepen understanding and collaboration between internationalists torn between the CND anti-nuclear movement, and pro-nuclear voices. Glyn both supported atomic energy generation – as a 20-year advisor to the International Atomic Energy Agency – and was a critic of its dangers, voicing concerns in the years following the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster in 1986. “Prof Glyn O Phillips said it was possible the effects of Chernobyl could be felt in Wales for generations to come.” BBC Wales, 2016
- In 1979, for UN International Year of the Child, Professor Phillips galvanised FFHC and NEWI to support health and water projects in Lesotho, Southern Africa. A public fundraising campaign raised £90k, presented to Basutho High Commissioner Mooki Molapo at Wales’ Temple of Peace on 25 April 1980
- This led to the founding of Dolen Cymru, the Wales Lesotho Link, by 1985.
- Through the 1980s-90s, Professor Phillips oversaw India’s West Bengal Spirulina Project (also sponsored by the Freedom from Hunger Campaign), supporting the growth and development of today’s Calcutta Institute for Environment and Wetlands Management (formally established 1986).
- Following establishment of the Philips Hydrocolloids Research Centre in Glyndwr University from 2003, Glyn led establishment by 2010 of a second institute in Wuhan, China, at Hubei University of Technology. BBC Wales Broadcast, 2010 – ‘Hydrocolloids’ by Science Cafe.
- Glyn has also been awarded Honours for his contribution to scientific collaboration in Japan, New York, Latin America, Asia Pacific, and the European Union.
Whilst his contribution to the world of science speaks for itself, Glyn O Phillips’ perhaps less well-known ‘background support’ to the international charities and civil society movements based at Wales’ Temple of Peace will be felt by many, for many years to come.
Craig Owen, now WCIA’s Heritage Advisor, served as a WCIA Trustee alongside Glyn O between 2010-12, and offered this reflection.
“Ex-Welsh school pupils who participated in ‘Model United Nations Summits‘ through UNA and CEWC (which Glyn chaired 1962 to 1997); Welsh International Development practitioners and community links / charities (for whom Glyn laid foundations through Wales’ Freedom from Hunger Campaign 1962-1997); or generations of young scientists and learners in Nigeria, Lesotho, Sudan, Oman, Pakistan, India and China (through the in-country organisations Glyn helped to found and develop)… they are just a few among thousands whose ‘global perspectives’ will have been shaped by the life achievements of Glyn O Phillips. He deserves to go down as one of Wales’ leading Welsh Internationalists, in the fantastic story of Wales’ Peace Heritage: the wish to ‘Rest in Peace’ could not be more fitting for a man for whom peace building and human cooperation was his life’s work.”
Craig Owen, WCIA Heritage Advisor