Professor Sir John Peebles Arbuthnott PPRSE FRCPSG FMedSci FRCPath has passed away at the age of 83.

A microbiologist by training and highly respected as an authority in his field, he became Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde from 1991–2000. Sir John was elected as a Fellow in 1993 and went on to become President of the RSE from 2011–2014. As a prominent and influential figure in the wider higher education sector, he received a knighthood in 1998 for services to education.

Sir John Arbuthnott’s presidency with the RSE was both historic and pivotal. A significant initiative launched on his watch—the Young Academy of Scotland—with his recognition of the importance of bringing young professionals together to nurture talent across all sectors and academic disciplines. He later enjoyed personally welcoming the Young Academy’s first 68 members at the RSE.

It was during Sir John’s three-year tenure that the RSE navigated contributing to the Scottish independence referendum debate. Politically impartial but intellectually engaged, the RSE under Sir John’s leadership played a measured but important role in the debate, following his view that the RSE should embrace the debate proactively rather than passively observe the outcome and consequences. This led to the publication of Enlightening the Constitutional Debate, and a series of 10 events in partnership with the British Academy.

Professor Sir John Ball, President of the RSE said:

It is with great sadness that we have learned of Sir John’s death. He was hugely respected and admired both in his own discipline of microbiology, more widely in the higher education sector, and indeed across the RSE Fellowship. His launch of the Young Academy of Scotland, thriving 12 years on, forms an important part of his legacy at the RSE. He will be remembered as a dedicated and influential President and Fellow, and for his enormous contribution to education and public life. Sir John will be greatly missed, and we extend our deepest condolences to his family.