Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Professor Rodney Frederick William Coates
Ph.D., FIEEE, MIET, C.Eng 1944 – 2013

The death of Professor Rodney Coates took place on 29th December 2013 at his home in Anglesey. Rodney was born and brought up in Southampton, however he had family roots in Northern Ireland. His father, Stafford was from Belfast and worked at Harland and Wolff’s shipyard until just before the Second World War, when he moved to Southampton to work on the Spitfire.

After leaving King Edward’s School, Southampton, Rodney took his BSc in Electronics at Southampton University (1963-1965), and went on to study for his PhD at Queen’s University, Belfast under his supervisor Professor Aeneas Rosie. The title of the thesis was “The Performance of the Frequency Modulation Discriminator in a Noisy Environment and Its Application to Channel Sacrificing Adaptive Communication.”

He began his university teaching career in 1968 lecturing in electronics, at the University of London, and then moved to the University College of North Wales, Bangor in 1971. In 1985 he was appointed as a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia. A year later he became Head of the Department and was appointed Professor of Electronic Systems Engineering in the School of Information Systems. During that time he had a sabbatical at the world famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. In 1990 Rodney was appointed as Professor of Acoustical Oceanography at Birmingham University. He took early retirement from this post in 1996.

Following his retirement from Birmingham he started a consultancy and training business, Seiche Ltd from his home in Anglesey. Seiche’s courses and research projects have been delivered to German, Dutch, South African, Israeli and United Arab Emirates organisations, as well as ones in the UK such as Thales and BAE Systems. Delegates have come from around the world to the annual Seiche courses held first in Imperial College, London and then the National Physical Laboratory. These courses were considered by many to fill a niche in Underwater Acoustic training leading to Rodney being made a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2009. The citation stated that it was for services to the education of Underwater Acoustics. Before he died, Rodney was delighted to know that a new team would be carrying his courses forward for future generations of Underwater Acousticians.

A lifelong angler, Rodney regarded the oceans as precious, a vulnerable resource for the whole planet and an unimaginably complex structure of inter-related ecosystems. One of the factors in Rodney’s success was his ability to communicate and inspire people, whatever their age, to look carefully and closely at the world – especially the marine world. He felt that you had to be able to simplify everything you were explaining so that anyone could understand it.

It takes little time to compress a lifetime of teaching and research into a few words. We have to use our imaginations to de-compress such information and think of the multitude of students Rodney educated, many of who became life-long friends. The colleagues he collaborated productively with and the many professional bodies to which he lent his expertise, ranging from the AUTOSUB review committee, through workshops for the British Antarctic Survey and European Community enterprises to the UK government’s scientific advisory arrangements. And those are only a few of the most recent ones. Rodney published books, and many technical papers – reaching round the world, helping to build professional links, exciting the minds of clever and resourceful people in this important specialist field. He published variously; on chart displays for fishing vessels, on ocean floor seismic recording, on sonar, on the acoustic monitoring of marine wildlife.

Rodney has been described as almost too multi-talented, because whatever he took up, he had to perform expertly. So, much as he loved painting, and was brilliant at it, he couldn’t really relax at it. What he could relax at was fishing, for which he had a life-long passion; at the age of five he would catch minnows in the brook at the bottom of the garden. It was this overwhelming passion that influenced the whole of his life.

Rodney is survived by his wife Gillian, who he met at Queen’s and married in 1970, his son Damion and daughter Shana and four grandchildren.

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