4 August 2020

Meet the WTS Board - Keith Purcell FIMMM

Keith Purcell has been with the timber industry for over 55 years and has been involved in WTS and its predecessor IWSc since he was a student

Keith entered the timber industry in Liverpool in1965 and was promptly enrolled on a four year apprenticeship involving attending night school as a Student Member of the then Institute of Wood Science (IWSc).

Keith was seconded to a hardwood agent/brokerage firm. The company was involved in the procurement of materials from all points of the hardwood compass. At that time Liverpool was second only to London for timber imports in general. One could view daily arrivals to the Mersey from all over the world.

The work was of a clerical nature that established an understanding of what was called at the time Timber Trade Practice. This was supplemented with work on the Liverpool dock system, measuring West African logs (the old quarter girth tape) and the intriguing business of Greenheart from Guyana. Seventy feet logs were no exception, along with a very long tape and a set of callipers.

The IWSc study entailed an additional monthly meeting with the Local Branch in Liverpool. Here one could meet other members of the trade, and in a more informal way discuss issues of the time. At that time every region had a very active IWSc Local Branch.

In the early seventies Keith found himself in the Liverpool softwood business, and in a short time he was out and about travelling. Shortly after came the start of a very long employment with Evans Bellhouse Softwood Importers. In 2016 Keith retired as Managing Director after 42 years with the Company (26 years as MD), during which time he travelled extensively sourcing product and visiting customers.

Keith says that “the background of the IWSc would often form the basis of a door opener for sales, as by then I had been on the Liverpool Committee for quite some time. This lead then as Chairman of the Liverpool branch to attend IWSc Council, culminating as President. To me the IWSc was an intriguing mix of academia and trade, the latter being my background of couse.”

“A feature of IWSc was the Annual Conference. My two-year term as President introduced sponsorship at these events. York 1993 and Chester 1994 brought together all sides of our trade with splendid attendances. This was the result of a prominent conference committee to whom I still owe a debt of gratitude for the support at the time.”

“My feature as President was to visit every IWSc region to establish this face to face contact with the membership. This included as Past President visiting the Institute’s four branches within Australia. And what a generous reception I was given. Of course, there had to be a contribution to the journey, with my illustrated talk of my career in the UK softwood importing industry covering the Nordic countries, Canada, Russia, and the specialist Parana Pine business of Brazil.”

“For me, the IWSc was a most interesting mixture of academia and trade. They both rubbed along well together. I loved it!”

In retirement, Keith, after 55 years of IWSc/WTS membership, is still an active Board member in the IOM3 Wood Technology Society, and is involved with the U3A, especially singing.

His one regret is that not enough members of the timber trade are seemingly prepared to study wood science, nor prepared to contribute time to the Wood Technology Society providing a “trade balance” on the Board and accordingly helping to influence the future. "For me this is a great loss to the future enhancement of our trade.  The importance of understanding wood science cannot be over estimated!"  A snippet of wisdom from someone who knows.


This article was contributed by the Wood Technology Society