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Friday 22 March 2019

Obituary: Prof Tom Brazil

Former head of electronic engineering at UCD and a leading contributor to science policy at national and EU level

SCHOLAR: Prof Tom Brazil
SCHOLAR: Prof Tom Brazil

Professor Thomas (Tom) Brazil was the in-situ President of the IEEE MTT (Microwave Theory and Techniques) Society - the world's leading organisation of researchers into harnessing the power of microwaves which enable mobile phones and other devices to operate with ever-improving efficiency.

He was a member of the Royal Irish Academy and was elected honorary secretary of the Academy.

Tom had recently retired as professor of electronic engineering at UCD, where his reputation as teacher, mentor and representative was second to none. He was elected to the governing body of UCD for three terms of five years each.

His humble demeanour belied the tremendous respect in which he was held by his students, the academic fraternity and the global microwave research community.

Thomas Joseph Brazil was born on September 4, 1952 on the Mall in Birr, Co Offaly, the eldest of four children of Elizabeth and Walter Brazil, who was then CIE area manager.

In 1960 the family relocated to Churchtown in Dublin. Tom attended De La Salle where he was a stellar student and many of his classmates who attended his funeral noted his wonderful wit and ability to see the funny side of everything. His daughter Lia's favourite story of his childhood was of his constant interest in how things worked, often manifest in very practical ways - including taking the back off the precious family television and disassembling his sister's dolls on St Stephen's Day!

After his father died in 1969, he worked closely with his mother to ensure his siblings Marian, Bernice and Walter got the love and practical support they needed to flourish.

He topped his class in electrical engineering - first place, first-class honours, and was one of the first students to do a PhD in electronics in UCD - it being awarded in 1977. He then went to work for Plessey Electronics in Northampton, England, and after a short stint lecturing in the University of Birmingham, he returned to Dublin to take up a UCD lectureship in electrical engineering in January 1980. There he founded the RF and Microwave Research Group which thrives to this day and has a strong international reputation. He worked closely with Sean Scanlan, the first professor of electronic engineering at UCD, and succeeded Sean in the chair in 2003.

Tom was very modest about his achievements but on his passing, David Rhodes CBE FRS, a leading figure in microwave engineering, said he was "one of the brightest and most intelligent microwave engineers of our time".

He was head of the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering for 14 years, where he charted a steady course for the school through the choppy waters of rapid and radical change, all the while unwavering in his maintenance of sound academic principles. A sense of care and of duty pervaded his life, from his PhD students to the young scientists whose projects he loved judging.

Nurturing and mentoring intelligence and curiosity, especially in young people, was the cornerstone of his professional life. He believed that good academics help others succeed, and he surely did that.

Elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 2004, he served as secretary and chair of the research and education working group. His copious energy and drive also led him to contribute to science policy at national and European Union level. Among that international community of engineers, he was known as a leading thinker and a driver of research.

Tom, who died on April 13, was that all-rounder combination of teacher and mentor, scientific researcher and contributor to society, but most of all he was a family man - a kind, gentle, and wonderful person, loving husband to Eileen and devoted father to Lia, David and Tom Junior. He was a gentleman and a scholar.

Sunday Independent

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