Peter Varey obituary | Education

My father, Peter Varey, who has died aged 75, was a chemist, publisher and writer who had a passion for other cultures and languages.

He was born in Watford, Hertfordshire, to Joan (nee Tilley) and Frank Varey, both secondary school teachers. They moved to Brighton, East Sussex, where Peter attended Brighton and Hove grammar school. He studied natural sciences at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he received first-class honours.

It was while doing his PhD at Caius that he met the love of his life and soon- to-be-wife, Irena Michalska, from Łódź, Poland. She was in Cambridge with her father, a visiting chemistry fellow at Churchill College and had come to learn English. After finishing his PhD, Peter went on to do his postdoctorate studies at the Institute of Oncology in Warsaw. He became fluent in Polish within just a few months of arriving.

Back in the UK, he began teaching chemistry at Kingston Polytechnic (now Kingston University). One day he noticed an advertisement recruiting lecturers for Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas, Venezuela. Peter, Irena and their young family soon moved to the city. Within six months he was delivering lectures to the students in their native tongue. They remained in Venezuela for five years and while Peter was there he developed a passion for Latin American culture, and in particular folk music, which he retained for the rest of his life.

In 1977 Peter took a job as head of public relations for Fisons near Cambridge. He went on to become the editor and then publisher of the Chemical Engineer, the magazine of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, in Rugby, Warwickshire, where he remained until shortly before he retired in 2007.

Then he decided to follow his passion and began to write books. His new vocation allowed him to pursue his love of travelling extensively to research his subject matter. He used his lifelong experience in chemical engineering to provide the academic and scientific background.

His first book, Life on the Edge (2012), was a biography of Peter Danckwerts, a chemical engineer, war hero and expert in bomb and mine disposal. A few days before he died, Peter’s second book, 100 Octane, was published – it gave an insight into the development of high octane fuel by three petroleum chemists, which ultimately helped the allies to gain superiority in the air battles of the second world war.

He was a lifelong supporter of the Labour party, though he recently cancelled his membership due to his fundamental opposition to its view on Brexit.

He is survived by Irena, my sister, Anna, and me, and his five grandchildren, Emily, Alastair, Ben, Maja and Ella.

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