Obituary – Rev Michael West FREng CEng HonFIMMM

Fellows' Lounge
3 Oct 2016

Rev Michael West  BSc FREng CEng FIMMM ARSM 1933–2016

Michael West was perhaps the most highly regarded mining publisher of the 20th Century and was also one of the very few mining engineers to be ordained into the Church of England. 

Born in 1933 and graduating from the Royal School of Mines in 1954, Michael worked underground on the Zambian Copperbelt before joining Mining Journal Ltd in 1960, taking ownership of the company in 1965. In The Pick and the Pen, AJ Wilson commented that, after 130 years, Mining Journal was now owned and editorially directed by someone with practical experience of the industry and that ‘this change to professionalism in mining engineering […] was a fundamental change, that has been further underlined during (Michael’s) ownership’. His 25-year tenure saw him campaigning repeatedly to improve the responsibility of the industry to stakeholders. 

He served the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy for many years, both on the council and as President. He was given the Freedom of the City of London in 1984 and was a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Among other international activities, he represented the World Mining Congress in countries that included the then Soviet Russia and China, as well as consulting for the United Nations.

In his presidential address in 1982, Michael emphasised that ‘the role of the engineer is not limited to the assessment of particular projects against a given set of standards. Engineers must be willing, and must equip themselves to be able, to participate in the continuing development of these standards. Indeed, they must be ready to initiate the creation of new judgement criteria.’ He further insisted that, regardless of their particular specialisation, engineers had to involve themselves in ‘the examination of the orebodies, their development, the recovery of the minerals and their constructive marketing’.

As a husband and father, Michael was devoted to his wife Florence and their four girls. Florence accompanied him to Rhodesia only three days after their wedding and, in her eighties, was still being dragged off by him, this time to Antarctica. Their daughters fondly recall a stern parent who delighted in challenging them with – at times outrageous – comments but who evidently played his full part in family life. Memories include the annual summer ritual of him ‘accidentally’ tipping them out of a canoe. In winter, three of them once sat on top of him on a sledge that hurtled down the hill, leaving him with a cracked rib and snow in his moustache! In due course, he achieved the status of grandfather and latterly great-grandfather, and his offspring pursued careers with the BBC and in geology, civil engineering and teaching. 

Ordained in 1988, Michael is remembered for combining a questioning theology with compassionate care for the elderly, isolated and lost, as well as empathy, love, gentleness and humour in his parish care to fellow workers in City of London and as chaplain to the Worshipful Company of Engineers. He was known not only as a tireless worker in the community but also as a generous and entertaining host, an unpredictable and thought-provoking Christian and the centre of a loving family.  

With contributions from Chris Hinde, Margaret née West, Arthur Wilson and others