Page 5 - PERIODIC Magazine Issue 7
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As well as being a distinguished scholar, Sir   The Alps were his greatest love and he would spend many
              John is remembered by colleagues as being a     Alpine summer seasons based in Zermatt climbing the
              true gentleman – and an intrepid mountaineer.    surrounding mountains. I was privileged to be his companion
              Professor Sir Brian Smith, sometime Lecturer    on many of these adventures. At the age of 55 he joined
              in Physical Chemistry and later Master of       an expedition to the Himalayas led by a famous Himalayan
              St Catherine’s College, recalls some of his     mountaineer who had taken part in the first ascent of
              adventures.                                     Kangchenjunga. Though the expedition suffered from adverse
                                                              weather with dangerous snowstorms and the unclimbed peak
                                                              which was targeted was not climbed, he was one of only
              John Rowlinson had two distinct personas: the academic
              and the adventurer - the physical chemist and the   two members to reach a summit - Berthatoli South, 20,700ft
              mountaineer. I knew him well in both his worlds.   (6,300m). He climbed his last 4,000m peak in the Swiss Pennine
              We had common interests in chemistry - particularly   Alps, the Weissmies,  at the age of 74. He  continued to climb in
              intermolecular forces, and in mountaineering.  John’s   the eastern Alps, Austria and finally, when 78,  in the Dolomites
              interest in mountaineering was lifelong. He was   where he struggled to accept that his ascents of mountains using
              determined and daring and a committed traditionalist.   the fixed cables of via ferratas were true mountaineering. In
              He started climbing after the Second World War when    his 80th year his friends, thinking he might be near retirement,
              all that was required to climb was a strong rope to tie   arranged a celebratory occasion for him in Zermatt. That was
              around one’s waist, well-nailed boots and, if appropriate,   not to be his last visit to the Alps! At the age of 89 he returned to
              a long ice axe -  the same equipment that had been used   Zermatt to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of
              by the pioneers of the sport.                   the Matterhorn.

              John was from Manchester, and in Manchester Made
              Them, Katherine Chorley’s book describing the diverse
              character of the Manchester men in her successful
              family at the turn-of-the-century, she wrote:  “They were
              distinguished professional men. They admired brains and
              hard work – they returned home punctually and dressed
              for dinner – they lived entirely orderly and responsible
              professional and domestic lives.”  She wrote that it was
              these same men who were leading pioneers of British
              mountaineering: “yet they relaxed at mountain inns in
              their most disreputable clothes .Their days were given to
              muscular and often reckless attacks on the rock faces of
              the Lakeland hills.”  What a perfect description of John.

              During the years that John climbed, mountaineers
              became increasingly laden with carabiners, metal wedges
              and camming devices to provide greater safety. This   A PCL student trip to the mountains at Pen-y-Pas youth hostel in 1975.  John is second from
              definitely was not John’s way. With the simple tools of   the left, Brian Smith on the right hand side.
              yore he continued to climb mountains all over the world.
              He was exceptionally fit. All too often he would find his   Living with John required very special qualities – such as being
              companions struggling to keep up with him as he raced   prepared for wedding anniversaries spent scanning the upper
              across difficult mountainsides. He tackled most of the   slopes of the Matterhorn for a signalled greeting from John.
              big mountain ranges of the world: the Himalayas,Tien   His wife Nancy, with her great wit, humour and strength of
              Shen, New Zealand, the Alps and more. He was always   character tempered with warm tolerance, was to prove more
              the first man out of his tent on a freezing  Himalayan   than equal to that role. John was accompanied by Nancy and
              morning or the first man to rise from his bunk in the   his children, Paul and Stella, on many of his Alpine adventures.
              unwelcoming cold and darkness for an Alpine start. John   He was very proud of his family and the accomplishments of his
              was the man who climbed the Finsteraarhorn in very   children, his six  grandchildren, and one great-grandson.
              bad weather, when all other parties turned back, saying:
              “The importance of good weather on Alpine ascents is   He will be greatly missed by his scientific colleagues and
              in my view greatly exaggerated.” This is a boldness that   friends from all over the world and by those who enjoyed his
              only mountaineers will comprehend. He was struck by   companionship in the mountains.
              lightning, fell down many crevasses (once dislocating his
              shoulder), and as always he just dusted himself down
              and continued to his next challenge. His only rule was
              always to stop at exactly one o’clock for lunch – even if
              hanging on a cliff face.
                                                          The Magazine of the Department of Chemistry
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