Keith Thompson and David Pugh

The following contains some personal reminiscences about two friends and colleagues in the sea level community.

Reminiscences of Keith and David

by Philip Woodworth (phil dot woodworth at gmail dot com)

Keith Thompson

On 11 July I received the bad news in an email from Natacha Bernier that Keith Thompson had been seriously ill with pancreatic cancer for the previous few weeks. He had been admitted to the Hospice Halifax the week before. By the time I had replied to Natacha’s email, Keith had died peacefully in the hospice.

I first became aware of Keith when I joined what was then called the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences at Bidston Observatory in the summer of 1983. By then Keith had left Bidston to take up his new job at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada where he remained for the rest of career (see below). To some extent I took over Keith’s role, researching into changes in mean sea level around the UK and the rest of the world. I felt that I knew him because I had read several of his papers on this subject (I still use some of them). However, as far as I recall, the first time I actually met Keith was when I visited Dalhousie a few years later during a sea level field trip around the Bay of Fundy.

Keith was a very hospitable character who had me around to his house for dinner the day after I met him. (I decided to take a couple of bottles of wine, not easy in those days when alcohol could be obtained in Halifax only from special stores where the bottles were wrapped in brown paper bags.) That was to be the first of many times we met. Of course, we corresponded by email in between. I was later pleased to visit Dalhousie again as an examiner for one of his PhD students (Simon Higginson). The day before the examination Keith drove me around a good chunk of Nova Scotia and we chatted about what he was working on then, such as statistical techniques for parameterising extreme sea levels, and the various colleagues we had in common. At about the same time, Keith and I became members of a working group for the European Space Agency on using space gravity data, that was also a very enjoyable experience.

The thing about Keith that struck me was that he had an active life in addition to his career in oceanography. For example, I knew he was especially interested in music and played guitar in a band. Andrea Christians in Halifax told me in an email how much Keith loved bass guitar; he would make her listen to different bass tracks all the time. From an obituary, see link below, I learned that this was something Keith had inherited, his father Eric being a talented musician on violin and oboe. Keith learned to play classical guitar in his early years, and then turned to the bass guitar, playing with the Halifax Music Co-op, as well as with small groups and friends. He also enjoyed watercolour painting, and in the last year he was becoming skilled in the art of stained glass. At a gathering on 20 August at Dalhousie there was a showcase of some of Keith’s artwork and music with his band playing in the background.

But back to his career in oceanography. Keith became an Emeritus Professor at Dalhousie University with joint appointments in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and in Oceanography. Keith had obtained a BSc in Mathematics in 1973 and an MSc in Fluid Mechanics in 1974 at the University of Manchester, and a PhD in Oceanography in 1979 at Liverpool. After arriving at Dalhousie as a post-doc, he quickly became a faculty member, and he was later to become head of department. Part of his work focused on coastal forecasting for Canadian waters, including a storm surge prediction model that is now being used operationally. He also wrote excellent papers on ocean dynamics and circulation (thanks no doubt to his background in fluid mechanics), tides, statistics of extreme sea levels, marine geodesy and aspects of marine biology. He held a Tier I Canada Research Chair in ‘Marine Prediction and Environmental Statistics’ and sat on international committees including the Coastal Ocean Observations Panel of the Global Ocean Observing System. He was a recipient of the J.P. Tully Medal in Oceanography from the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society in 2016, and three of his PhD students went on to become faculty members at Dalhousie.

Keith is survived by his wife, Ingrid Peterson; his son, Peter Thompson; and his brothers, David and Graham.

I have often wondered (one of life’s ‘what ifs’) what would have happened to me if Keith had not decided to move to Canada, as his departure resulted in a vacancy on sea levels at Bidston. Therefore, I have always been kind of grateful to Keith, in a strange way, for moving on. As things stand, I am just pleased to have had shared interests with him and, in retrospect, I wish I had been able to work with him more, I would have learned a lot.

Photo of Keith Thompson
Keith Thompson

Some links:

David Pugh

David Pugh died on 1 August while on a walking trip in Wales, just a few weeks after Keith. There is an obituary for David on the National Oceanography Centre web site which you must read (see below). That web page gives some background to his life and career and leads to a more complete document with some photographs.

I was honoured to be asked to say a few words about David’s career at his funeral on 31st August. One thing I was keen to mention concerns what he did after retirement. At a time when many people would decide to take it easy, David returned to doing research, mostly with former colleagues like me. For example, we together made measurements of the tide in Loch Ness. Other things he took on with completely new sets of people – for example, his recent work on tides and sea levels in Ireland where, partly thanks to David, there is now an active tidal research group. Even in retirement, David managed to publish at least one major science paper each year.

I think there were several reasons why he did all this work in retirement. Partly it was because he liked to travel to new places around the coast. Also, there was the satisfaction of obtaining reliable data from instruments that he had helped to develop and trusted, and using that data to learn something that was scientifically useful.

But I would like to mention how I came across David. By 1983 I was at a turning point in my career in physics. I had been working abroad but I was interested in returning to somewhere in the NW of England for both personal and professional reasons. Then I saw an advertisement for a job at Bidston. It was located near to where I wanted to be and I knew the Observatory well from having been born nearby. However, my bad luck was that there was a better candidate (Colin Stephens) who landed the job and made a great success of it thereafter. Fortunately for me, David Pugh was a member of the interview board and at the end of the interview he mentioned that there might be a more suitable position coming up at Bidston before long. I can’t recall how I spotted that later advertisement for a job in tides and sea levels. I can’t remember if David alerted me to it or what, but I did indeed apply and the rest is history, as they say. David was on the board again, along with David Cartwright and Tom Allan from Wormley.

Therefore, I have always been grateful to David Pugh for recruiting me in this way. I became his sidekick to some extent by taking over from him as director of the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (where Elaine Spencer had been on maternity leave) and then as chair of the Global Sea Level Observing System. He also became a good friend and a sounding board for many things.

I’ll miss my many travels with David in retirement to places as far apart as the Falklands and Shetland, and the many shorter trips to Paris for meetings of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of which David was Chairman for several years. I’ll miss our visits to the good restaurants that he had a knack of discovering (in Chester we had many lunches at the Albion pub). The UK marine community will miss one of its leading and most active members.


Photo of David Pugh
David Pugh

Singing with Keith Thompson

by Sylvia Asquith

In the late 1970s, Keith became friendly with Charles Smith, probably from sharing coffee breaks at 11 am. Charles was in the Computer Section at Bidston. I think at the time Keith was involved in research work and studying for his PhD. The one thing they had in common was a love of music, and as they both had guitars, they would play privately somewhere in the Proudman Building during lunch break. They found out that I was a singer and asked me to join them! So we had a tryout one lunch hour – a few folk songs altho’ they could both play classical as well.

It went together fine and as I had lots of sheet music at home, they came over to Bebington where my husband David and I lived with our family for practices. Keith played from the music or by memory and Charles put a harmony into the melodies. He composed too and wrote a “Bidston Reel” which they played together and it’s really catchy and tuneful.

David recorded lots of our music on a cassette recorder and so we decided to go to a folk club and offer to play! We needed a name, so I came up with “Quick Silver” (our initials CKS in the centre!). After lots of lunchtime practices and some at my home we decided to go to Rhona’s Folk Club in Parkgate where there was going to be a “Singer’s Night” on a Sunday where they met every week.

We’d chosen one of Nana Mouskouri’s songs “The White Rose of Athens” and the “Bidston Reel”. We felt a bit nervous but thankfully it went down very well, and we were invited for the following week when Jacqui and Bridie were also appearing. They were both well-known singers, so this was a great compliment, so what a good start!

From then on, we got lots of engagements and charity concerts. However, all good things come to an end and Keith began to feel his work was affected and he needed to study in the evenings towards his PhD. So “Quick Silver” was no more!

Keith went to Canada about 1982-3 and didn’t return to Bidston but Judi Wolf will be able to tell you about that. I understand he got married later on. Charles left Bidston and returned to London and got a job at a Care Centre for the Blind in their computer department and generally helping with the running of it. He visited Bidston friends and called to see us which was nice. He still played his guitar and had a cassette of “Quick Silver”. Happy memories! I was sorry to hear of Keith’s death – he was a nice gentleman.

An Appreciation of David Pugh

by Graham Alcock  (1705ga at gmail dot com)

Some people are lucky enough to have known others who have had a profound beneficial effect on them at turning points in their lives: perhaps an inspired teacher or a supportive grandparent. For me, David Pugh featured in no less than five such key moments in my scientific life.

I first met David at Bidston in 1972, when he had just returned from installing offshore tide gauges in the Wash with Doug Leighton. This led to my first scientific paper (with David as senior author) on using sea level to make geodetic levelling connections.

In 1978, David was invited by the Open University to contribute to its new course in Oceanography, by teaching the physical oceanography component in its Northwest Region. But he suggested that I be appointed instead – thus opening up my long (until 2011) and thoroughly enjoyable OU career.

In 1981, David was a member of the panel which selected me to succeed Jerzy Graff as head of the Tidal Computation and Statistics Service when Jerzy left the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (IOS) for private-sector marine science. This was a sea-change (pardon the pun) for me because it had become clear that I did not have the first-class mind to be a “prime-mover” researcher, but I found my niche in scientific administration, especially in marketing and publicising Bidston’s science and technology. Over the years, I developed the Section into the Information and Applications Group. (Ironically expanding the commercial exploitation of Bidston’s work that Jerzy hadn’t been allowed to do years before.) David was involved in that turning point. He told me many years afterwards that the Panel Chairman, David Cartwright, had remarked on my “nice suit” (ex-wedding 8 years earlier), so perhaps that got me the job!

Together with Klaus Wyrtki, David had the idea of a global network of sea level stations, which was developed as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Global Sea Level Observing System  (IOC GLOSS) project. That involved meetings in the various IOC regions to explain the national, regional and global importance of measuring and analysing sea level, so encouraging and supporting the installation and maintenance of tide gauges.  I don’t think David fancied going to Tanzania for the East African Region meeting and so he asked me to go as the so called “GLOSS sea level expert”. That was the start of my involvement with GLOSS, including organising the regular GLOSS Training Course at Bidston for tide gauge technicians from Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and South America, and attending the regular GLOSS meetings around the world. I have a photograph of three generations of PSMSL Directors: Geoff Lennon, David and Phil Woodworth cavorting in a (rather grotty) motel pool in Miami.

David’s final impact on my career was when I took early retirement in 2000.  Over a few years, he contracted me to write one report reviewing Earth data sources for FAGS (the Federation of Astronomical and Geophysical Data Analysis Services, the organisation that coordinated the 13 major organisations providing global geophysical data), and then a report (with Lesley Rickards and Gaynor Evans) for the UK’s Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology (IACMST) on  the climate and trends in maritime data in UK waters, later updated for the Department of Environment. This meant that I was gradually able to tail off my involvement in oceanography rather than have an abrupt end to my career.

Five turning points in my career, all influenced by David. Thanks David, I won’t forget.

A Recollection of David Pugh

from Tony Rice (ricetony01 at gmail dot com)

I was pleased, but also of course sad, to read the obituary on the NOC web site of David who was, indeed, very good company and a great raconteur. I liked him very much, although he could sometimes be slightly pompous! Hence, I offer the following story that he would probably have told against himself.

Sometime in the 90s we both attended a conference in Edinburgh. We had arranged that he would meet me off the train at Waverley and have a meal together. Accordingly, when he met me, he said that he would take me to a rather nice little restaurant that he had found. However, it was a hot day and I was not wearing a tie, so David said that it would be possible that they wouldn’t like this, but he was sure that they would lend me one. On arrival at the restaurant, I went in first and asked the maître d’hôtel if I was sufficiently well dressed. With a twinkle in his eye and clearly recognising David, he said “Well sir, you are perfectly OK, but I am not so sure about your friend”.

To his credit, David saw the funny side and we had a very pleasant evening.

Thoughts of Keith Thompson

by Judith Wolf (wavefollower at hotmail dot co dot uk)

Keith Thompson was already there when I joined IOS Bidston in 1976. Keith was doing a part-time PhD and it gave me the idea that I could do the same.  I don’t remember which year he joined Bidston or exactly which year he graduated. After that he was offered a year’s sabbatical at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada which he took on the understanding that he was coming back. However, he got head-hunted and never returned which was frowned upon because IOS had supported him to get his PhD.

I went to Halifax for a 2-week visit in 1986 in which I gave a talk at the Bedford Institute/Dalhousie University on the coupled wave-tide-surge modelling I was doing. Of course, I visited Keith and Ingrid who were very hospitable. I remember them taking me to a show and giving me fresh lobster for dinner.

Some Thoughts of Keith Thompson and David Pugh

by Trevor Baker

Keith Thompson

I think that Keith Thompson started in 1974, when I was on sabbatical in the USA.  For some reason, there was no Civil Service person on his interview panel (for establishment) and so Keith was interviewed again in 1975 and I was on that panel.  When Geof Lennon left, Keith felt that David Cartwright was not interested in his work, so I tried to encourage him to continue his mean sea level research. I think that he probably made the right decision by going to Canada eventually.

At that time, IOS Bidston was managed remotely from IOS Wormley. Just to give one example to illustrate the problems associated with that, Henry Charnock (overall IOS Director) was visiting Bidston and found that he had some spare time, and he thought that he would pop into a few offices and talk to any scientists who were around. He went to see Keith Thompson, but after several minutes Keith was struggling to answer Charnock’s questions about Earth tides. Keith realised that Charnock had people mixed up and said that he should speak to me in the next office!

I remember that Keith was a good guitar player, which was useful for some of the parties at that time.

David Pugh

David Pugh started at Bidston at about the same time as me (late 1969). He and Kevin Taylor were long suffering fans of Everton.  I well remember David taking me and Tony Lambert (at Bidston on a one-year post-doc) to see Everton in 1970, with just a few games to go before they won the title. David emphasized, quite rightly, that we should look closely at Colin Harvey and Alan Ball, who were the midfield engines of the Everton team.

In 1970, David, Tony Lambert, Ian Ainslie and I would play football at lunch times. We would use pullovers as goal posts at the bottom of the hill (the flat area on the right at the bottom) and kick a football about for some fun and exercise. At about that time, somebody arranged a football match in which an IOS Bidston team took on a team put together by the Liverpool University Oceanography Department. After a few minutes of the game, David ran through but found his way blocked, so he passed to me and shouted ‘shoot’.  I did and the ball surprisingly flew into the top right-hand corner of the net. Tom Dugdale (in Bidston Administration but not yet the Administrator) was the referee but we lost the match anyway. In the summer of 1970, we had a flat in Park Road South and for the England vs. Germany World Cup game in Mexico, I invited David and a few others around for beers to watch the game. It was a very enjoyable evening until the England collapse in the second half, after Alf Ramsey took off Bobby Charlton.

To add to the mentions of David’s career in the obituary on the NOC web site, in the 1970s there was a major programme of measurements on the Inner Dowsing (an off-shore platform near the Wash off the east coast of England). This involved Doug Leighton visiting Inner Dowsing regularly by helicopter. Ian Vassie and Graham Alcock (see above) were involved in the analysis of the data. Graphics software at that time was fairly primitive, but I recall writing a program in 1971 to plot tilt ellipses at Llanrwst (as part of research on Earth Tides). This turned out to also be useful for plotting current ellipses and was used by David for some of the plots in his 1987 book.

Whilst I was on sabbatical in the USA in 1974, David used his experience of working at the MoD to set up a Whitley Committee (a local committee containing management and union representatives) with himself as chairman of the union side. He thought that would help the newly appointed director, David Cartwright, handle some of the administration issues at Bidston. When I returned from the USA he persuaded me to take over as chairman of the union side. It was a bigger task than I expected, because at that time we had a head of administration that didn’t particularly like scientists. Fortunately, before most meetings I received a confidential phone call from somebody in admin telling me what this guy was up to, so that I was forewarned and could get around the problem!

One important thing that David did, while being Chairman of GLOSS and President of the Commission on Mean Sea Level and Tides of IAPSO, was in getting measurements of the geodetic fixing of Tide Gauge Benchmarks off the ground by setting up the so-called ‘Bill Carter committee’. The photograph below was taken at Woods Hole in November 1988 (unfortunately Dick Peltier, Dick Rapp and Bob Schutz were not available for the photograph).

Bill Carter committee at Woods Hole, 1988. Back row: David Enfield, Christian Le Provost, Bill Carter and David Pugh. Front row: Claude Boucher, me (Trevor Baker), David Aubrey and Mark Zumberge.

A football photograph

from Ian Ainslie

The photograph below refers to another of the football matches with Liverpool University mentioned in the contribution from Trevor Baker.

Probably just over 50 years ago, the Institute of Coastal Oceanography and Tides (ICOT as it was then) played the first of a series of 2 or 3 football matches against a team from Liverpool University. I think the game in Liverpool where this picture was taken was won by us (ICOT). I think the score was 4-1 but perhaps that was no surprise when you see that the referee was Dr. Rossiter (ICOT Director). His son David was also in the team.

I think Tom Dugdale was about 47 then at a time when I marvelled how he was still playing football and cricket at that age. Little did I know then that I would play until I was 60 and only then did I stop because I left Keyworth to move back to the Wirral.

Photo of ICOT football team
ICOT football team. Top left to right, Roger Flather, David Rossiter (the Director’s son), Richard White, John Howarth, Graham Jeffries, Trevor Baker, Tony Bowen, Tony Lambert and Dr. Rossiter (referee). Bottom left to right, me (Ian Ainslie), Izzy Crown (husband of Pauline Crown who was a secretary at Bidston), Tom Dugdale and David Pugh.

Some Memories of David Pugh and Keith Thompson

by Jerzy Graff (jerzy dot graff at gmail dot com)

I was fortunate to know both David and Keith during their formative years at Bidston Observatory and like many others I am greatly saddened at their passing.

I joined the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (IOS) Bidston in March1974 as head of the Tidal Computation Group which was being temporarily managed by David Pugh. My background was applied maths and fluid dynamics with programming experience using some of the latest main frame computers of the time while working at the DoE HECB (Highway Computer Engineering Branch) in London. I knew nothing about tides but equally was looking for a route out of programming.

My task at Bidston was to modernise the production of tide table predictions to match the introduction of modern computer typesetting systems being introduced for production of Tide Tables by the UK Hydrographic Department in Taunton. At that time tidal prediction computation at Bidston covered ports across UK, Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and parts of the Americas. The procedures which had evolved from pioneering researches at Bidston and development of the “Tidal Prediction Machine” were still relatively primitive and involved predictions being computed by an old KDF9 computer in Liverpool and punched paper tape output delivered back to Bidston to drive IBM printers generation fully formatted A3 size Tide Table pages for each port which, after checking for errors using comptometers to aid the differencing of times and heights and photographing the pages for archiving, were sent to Taunton for off-set-litho printing of official tide tables. At the same time Bidston was transitioning to use a new powerful IBM computer so the modernisation task was transformed into creating in-house software that moved the tide prediction systems onto the IBM and generated specially coded magnetic tapes that could directly drive the new Linetron systems at Taunton for producing Tide Tables. Valerie Doodson who was involved in the earlier use of Tidal Prediction Machines at Bidston was responsible for managing the production and administration of Tide Table work and coped superbly with the transition to a modern production system. The challenging software development was undertaken by David Blackman who I recruited in 1974 and who proved to be one of the finest programmers I have ever worked with.

By the time I left Bidston at the end of 1981 national capability for producing Tide Tables meant that predictions for Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore were no longer prepared at Bidston and the UK Hydrographic Department was also beginning to take over predictions for UK and European ports.

David Pugh

During my time at Bidston, David and I had a fairly terse relationship due to our competing research interests in extreme sea level studies. David and Ian Vassie were pioneering the new joint-probability method of analysis, whereas I was extending the classical scheme of handling annual maxima pioneered a decade earlier by Lennon and Suthons. Around 1978, David chose to move to the Natural Environment Research Council headquarters in Swindon on a “fast track” pathway into management. It was all the more amazing how he re-engaged with his tidal research interests so successfully all these years later. I left IOS in 1981 and moved into the commercial oceanography sector with one foot still in the tidal research domain and here the tale begins.

David was always a smart if not dapper dresser with his standard attire of double-breasted blazer and grey slacks, a fashion that I myself adopted from 86/87 onwards. Over the years, we kept bumping into each other at various European Commission meetings or conferences, and, on one occasion, I recall David remarking in his imitable way “I like your blazer … where did you get it?” …….. “I had it made in Hong Kong … by a tailor on Lockhart Road” …. knowing full well that David would have no idea what the significance of Lockhart Road meant. Stony silence and change of subject.

In more recent years, at the inauguration ceremony of the exhibition of Tidal Prediction Machines at the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool, we met again and, while heading downhill to lunch afterwards at his favourite eatery, he was obviously taken by my light tan classic brogue shoes and remarked “I like your shoes .. where did you get them” … TK Maxx I responded. A happy smile and David insisted he pay for lunch.

David was a nice chap and, when we were both at Bidston, we saw each other socially and played footie together. It so happens that later, when I was at British Maritime Technology (BMT) in 1985-2009, one of my senior colleagues there was Andrew Docherty. He had also played footie with David, at Cambridge where they were contemporaries. Even spookier, Andrew was brought up in Claughton village just down the road from us!

Keith Thompson

Keith Thompson was one of the bright young things who arrived at Bidston while I was there. He went on to carve out a memorable career in tidal research after having been guided on his way by Norman Heaps and others. Alan Davies, Judith Wolf and Roger Proctor were also newcomers at Bidston at the time. At that time, Keith was researching the variations in mean sea level (MSL) around the UK. Because my own work on annual sea level maxima around the UK ran in parallel with Keith’s work on monthly MSL variations at the same locations, we often engaged in discussion, with me benefiting the most in any knowledge exchange. We both submitted our respective papers covering more than 60 ports in 1979 with Keith’s work a steppingstone to a highly formative career at Dalhousie University in Canada. At Bidston, Keith somehow always seemed to be a young, eager and happy-go-lucky post-grad who was a long way from taking on the mantle of responsibility which he acquired in Canada.

Although we exchanged the odd email over the years we never met again.