Talented engineer with a passion for motorsports

George McDowell.
George McDowell.

A man who became a highly skilled power engineer, travelling all over the world with his work and writing 25 research papers, has died aged 61.

George William Alfred McDowell was born in Portadown on January 28, 1955, a son for Alfred and Agnes and brother for Anne, Barbara and Eleanor. George attended Edenderry PS, Killicomaine Secondary School and Portadown College, and equipped with his first chemistry set and an inquisitive mind, he was soon awarded the Science Cup in Killicomaine - with his name being the first on the cup which is still given out today.

Outside of school, George’s childhood was spent helping his father in his workshop on the Gilford Road. Alfred, who originally worked for McDonagh’s Furniture in Obins Street, eventually started up a furniture manufacturing business of his own, supplying Corkin’s in Lurgan, as well as McDonagh’s and Alfie Briggs in Lurgan.

George’s love of motorsport was already prevalent. Combining his pram wheels and wood from the workshop, he built his first go-kart with his father as a young boy.

George was intending to attend Queen’s University, Belfast, until a last-minute change of heart brought him to England, along with his friends Willie Kingham, Jim McClelland and Donald Smart, where he embarked on an engineering degree in Manchester. Another very good friend was David Lindsay, an accountant from Portadown.

George spent his university years enjoying the many musical and sporting events Manchester had to offer, and his strong work ethic and passion for his degree saw him graduate with first class honours.

He began his career in 1976 on the GEC graduate training scheme in Rugby, England, and went on to spend nearly 10 years there working within the marine division.

In 1982 he met his wife Karen on a skiing holiday to Italy. When his work took him from Rugby to Karen’s home town of Littlehampton, he decided to contact her and they spent the week together, started up a long distance relationship and three months later got engaged, marrying four months after that, in 1983. They had two girls named Melanie and Rose, now aged 30 and 27 respectively.

In 1986 George completed a master’s in science on ‘The identification of Ship Dynamics’. He moved to Ash Vale, Aldershot, in 1986 to work for ERA Technology in Leatherhead, and remained in Ash Vale for 30 years until his death.

During this time he worked for ERA for 27 years and in 2013 set up a company, GMDpower Consulting, working as an independent electrical engineer consultant.

George was a highly respected power systems engineer and renowned specialist in lightning technology, not just within ERA but throughout the engineering world. His work brought him to many countries - Nigeria, Libya, China and the Middle East, naming just a few.

He was a Fellow of the Institute of Engineering Technology (IET) and author of 25 papers on a wide range of subjects, which he presented on numerous training courses. He also contributed to a number of electrical engineering text books.

Since George’s death, ERA have decided to name a room in their building after him, reflecting the esteem in which he was held.

George had a passion for motorsports and, in particular, speedway, going often to the stadium to support the Coventry Bees team and further afield to watch world finals. He also had a love of tennis and would attend Wimbledon every summer.

He regularly visited his wider family circle in Northern Ireland and celebrated his 60th birthday in Portadown in January 2015. Later that year he was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and had treatment, on and off, from then until he died on October 25 this year.

George’s family have been touched and humbled by the positive attributes that his friends and colleagues have been so eager to share. They said, “Clearly he was a respected role model, mentor and peer. His patience, kindness and overwhelming technical knowledge have all featured so highly on people’s praise.

“George had a sense of humour that was both wonderfully dry and remarkably quick.”

The funeral service was held in Aldershot with a graveside service and committal held at Drumcree Church of Ireland, where George was laid to rest with his parents. Donations in lieu of flowers are to Bloodwise (Leukaemia and Lymphoma research). Go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/George-McDowell.