Obituary, John Thirkettle (1944 – 2022)

John Thirkettle was a Professional Member the Institute of Corrosion from 1982 and later a Fellow of ICorr. He was an active member of the ICorr Midland Branch between 1983 and 1993 and later Aberdeen Branch from 1993. He was Chair of the Scottish Branch of the Pipeline Industries Guild 2000-2021. He was active in the Energy Institute (previously the Institute of Petroleum and was a member of NACE (now AMPP). John sadly passed on 13th August 2022, and his funeral was 1st September in Bedford, where a strong group from the Institute of Corrosion attended to honour his contribution to ICorr, and to the corrosion engineering profession in which he worked since 1962.

John began his career in corrosion engineering with Spencer and Partners in London, where he met Kathy, later his wife. His boss was initially Ken Spencer, the firm’s founder, and then David Lewis, who was to become President of ICorr. He worked with David Harvey at that time. Spencer and Partners were one of a select few companies in corrosion engineering and cathodic protection at the time – they were the only Consulting Engineering firm in the sector.

John left after 7 years, joining another specialist company in the CP industry, Roxby, in 1969, and was eventually Manager of their Cathodic Protection Engineering Division (they were also NDT Engineers) for their entire operations in corrosion and CP in the UK and overseas.

In 1983 John joined Global Cathodic Protection first as Manager for all the CP engineering, installation and commissioning of all onshore and offshore projects. In 1987 he was promoted to Operations Director and in 1989 to Managing Director. To those who worked with him, through his entire career, he was acknowledged as always steady, honest competent and reliable.

John then moved his work to Aberdeen in 1993, firstly as Director of the Corrosion Engineering Division of ACEL and then as Operations Manager of North East Corrosion Engineers. During this time John trained and developed many of the colleagues who are active in CP today.

In 2004 John left the NE and formed Thor Corrosion, becoming, like many senior CP personnel, an Independent Consultant. It is a measure of the man that John continued to assist and work with all many of his past colleagues throughout the following decades. During these many years of friendship, professional contact and project collaboration, John was a leading light and an example to our profession, especially in the training and nurturing of Corrosion Engineers. He wrote the first Institute of Corrosion training programme for Buried Pipeline Cathodic Protection Technicians and Engineers, which he and Chris Lynch presented many years. This has developed into the very successful ICorr CP Training Scheme.

John put a lot into our industry, mostly by voluntary activity, as well as strong activity for ICorr, nationally and in Aberdeen, he was active in the Pipeline Industries Guild and the Energy Institute in Aberdeen. He always ‘put back’ his skills and knowledge to the benefit of others. John was Chair of the committee which produced the 2nd Edition of the Energy Institute’s publication, “Design and Operational Guidance on Cathodic Protection of Offshore Structures, Subsea Installations and Pipelines” published in January 2022.
He was a very competent CP specialist, and one of the first in the UK to recognise the importance of soil potential gradient errors in potential measurements, particularly for buried pipelines (so called IR drop errors).

He was an early user of accurately time interlinked CP power supply switching and data logging to make these Instant OFF surveys more accurate, faster and able to be used as ‘close interval surveys’ to collect data at 1-3m intervals over buried pipelines, these are now ‘normal practice’.

One of his clients sent a note from Dubai on hearing of John’s departure: “I will always remember my time working with John with fondness; he always was willing to share his wisdom, he was patient and always wanted to do what was right” This is typical of many messages received by his family and colleagues about John; unstinting praise for a very well respected and decent colleague.

John was a great collaborator and because of his sincerity and honest character, he gained the trust and confidence of many of his colleagues and clients. To this end his personal touch was key to establishing Corrosion Management Forums at St Fergus, Shetland and Bacton, where the first large scale cross plant CP surveys were performed that not only provided data that were essential and accurate, but largely unique and critically important. These are all running today and they have become a platform for improved collaboration between owner/operators for yet more shared development works and understanding in corrosion. One of the more prominent of these was the investigation and improved understanding of Corrosion Under Insulation (CUI). John progressed this, coordinating and managing the UK CUI Forum. This culminated in a shared state of the art understanding and provided a key contribution to the EFC publication Corrosion-Under-Insulation (CUI).

Let us remember this man who gave so much in example and knowledge to our industry and was liked and respected by all. Our sympathy goes to his wife, Kathy, Emma and James, and their daughter and son.

BS Wyatt and C Lynch

ICorr colleagues of John at the funeral on 1st September 2022. From left to right,
Chris Lynch, Steve Reid, David Harvey, Bill Whittaker, John Rae, Brian Wyatt and Stephen Tate

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