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A tribute to Prof. John Fieldhouse, an academic and industry icon


Attorneys are very persuasive. I learned that when I was offered to study an automotive related case and show up in court as an industry expert. The subject matter was somewhat outside my comfort zone, so after having studied the case for a few days I called the litigator informing him that he should find someone else. But he would not take no for an answer. He had already gone through a list of six candidates, and he was as convinced that I was his best expert as I was otherwise. Until I called my friend and colleague, Professor John Fieldhouse.


I met John many years ago at an industry gathering in Europe. He made me feel welcome at the bar, his favorite place. It didn’t take long before we were sitting for dinner at an outdoor restaurant with a group of Englishmen and women trying to solve the world’s problems, starting with Brexit! Back to the hotel and a bit of nightcap, John said. Even though we had just met, we felt like we had known each other for a long time. By then, we had traded life stories, and I got to know his wife Susan, their daughter Claire, and son David.


John was born in 1947 in Leeds, West Yorkshire, a county in Northern England. He was the youngest of four children—two brothers and one sister. His father ran a grocery store while his mother managed the household. John was the first in his family to go to college. He attended the University of Leeds part-time while working as an apprentice. He was truly a self-made man which gave him an in-depth understanding of people around him. He graduated with a BSc 1st Class. He continued to earn his PhD at the University of Huddersfield where he was awarded professional status for recognition of his works in automotive and mechanical engineering design and educational research.


In addition to his teaching at Leeds University, he had an active role around the globe in automotive engineering and research. John was recognized and awarded the Lloyd L. Withrow Distinguished Speaker and SAE Brake Colloquium Dan Mahannah for his contribution to the braking industry. His ongoing interests included braking systems, NVH and health hazards associated with the mobility industry–like brake dust. He had a particular interest in the education of automotive engineers and in promoting collaboration between industry and academia at an international level. He firmly believed the mobility industry should be more active in improving the knowledge and enthusiasm of its most valuable product–their engineers.


In October 2019, John and I traveled to Shanghai, China where we were invited to give two lectures, one at the university and one at an industry gathering. Transportation was provided to us between the hotel and the industry event, a couple miles away. Our backpacks were slightly heavier returning from the event because of gifts from our Chinese colleagues inside. Amongst the gifts we each had a very fancy china made tea mug and cover popular in the country. We decided to walk back to the hotel, strolling through the clean sidewalks, at times stopping by beautiful brand-new condominium buildings block after block, all vacant. As we got closer to our hotel, John stopped by a street sweeper, in uniform, and we both tried to start a conversation with him to no avail. He didn’t speak English and between the two of us and a handful of Chinese words we knew, there was no way to communicate. John offered him our two tea mugs and he happily accepted. The sweeper was happy but not as much as John. John was delighted. I felt like he had gone back to his workingman roots where the smallest of gifts must have meant the world to him. Despite the language barrier, we walked away feeling a connection between the three of us. A connection made possible by John’s generosity and down-to-earth character.


Last I spoke with John, he was alone in his flat overlooking the ocean working on his book. We were on video call, so he gave me a virtual tour of the flat and shared the magnificent ocean view. He asked for my collaboration in one of the chapters of his engineering book. I was thrilled to be asked. As usual, our conversation moved from the technical, to the social, to his health, and to politics, his favorite subject. I let him have the floor lecturing me on world affairs. At the end, we agreed to disagree!


As for my “expert witness” case, I ran the entire project by John and asked for his help. The subject matter was like an alphabet to John. He walked me through the whole project. Helped me prepare an engineering-based argument. Reviewed my presentation. Made himself available at all kinds of odds hours, until minutes before I headed into court. After my presentation and argument before the judge and the government’s attorneys, the judge asked me if I had help for my preparation? I responded: “Yes, your honor, Professor John Fieldhouse of Leeds University had helped me.” On another occasion, while I was on a business trip in Sweden to give a presentation on an automotive environmental subject, I called John to see if he would join me. We both had worked on that subject matter. John drove hours from his hometown to Manchester, sleeping overnight at an airport hotel before catching the first flight out to Gothenburg the following day.


Nearly six months ago John was struck with a case of Covid. Like many around the world, he recovered only to have to deal with the lingering affect of the illness from time-to-time. Recently, he was diagnosed as having “long-haul” residual effects of Covid. I often found him short of breath while walking his four feisty Havanese dogs. John was a long-time animal lover and a keen debater of the hot political topics of the day. He was in and out of hospital suffering from lung issues. He passed away peacefully in the hospital on June 30th, 2023. John was 76 years old.


John was instrumental in shaping the foundation of the Brake Academy (BA) with me. He had written several blogs for BA and was very passionate about his work and extremely popular with his students. The world of automotive technology and academia has lost an icon. I miss his never-ending enthusiastic arguments, but above all his sense of humor.

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13 Comments


Guest
Jul 07, 2023

I am saddened by this news. John was a great colleague and friend. I would see John at technical conferences, often seeing him first thing in the morning at the gym, during the conference coffee breaks and late into the evening in the bar. He shared his great breath of engineering knowledge and views on world affairs. He will be missed.

JWF 070723

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Guest
Jul 07, 2023

Rest in peace Prof.John. I had the privilege of attending one of his lectures as part of the braking of road vehicles course at the the Bradford University. Though it was in 2010, I still remember him for the deapth of his knowledge and subtle humour with which he kept the class engaged.

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Guest
Jul 05, 2023

I am deeply saddened by the news of John's passing. very unexpected and shocking. I had the privilege of knowing John for the past 15 years. I first met John at the school of Mechanical engineering, University of Leeds where he was lecturing Chassis Engineering to me and my other MSc fellows. He was a passionate and inspiring lecturer and certainly one of favorites. My lectures were debatably inspired by him when I later become a lecturer at the university of Leeds myself. I last met him in October 2019 in a Trip to Shanghai, China to give two invited lectures where Mohammad was also present. We had long conversations about Brexit, Brake industry challenges and Tribology throughout our entir…


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Guest
Jul 05, 2023

Terrible news indeed. He was a professional guy with a lot of humour and a positive vibe, the best combination you can have. Rest in Peace John and my condolences to his family and friends. Mark Segeren

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Guest
Jul 04, 2023

John was my PhD supervisor and a truly larger than life character, he will be sorely missed by many.


RIP

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