Professor Dilewijns

From the moment that I was studying to become a metallurgical engineer professor Dilewijns has been in charge of the Laboratorium voor algemene metallurgie, siderurgie en fysische metaalkunde (Laboratory for general metallurgy, iron &a steel making and physical metallurgy). Admittedly his appointment as head of the laboratory only came in 1980, but he had been the de facto head since the retirement of prof. Albert de Sy in 1975.

I didn’t have much contact with prof. Dilewijns in my time as a student, apart from attending the lectures and sitting the exams. I do, however, remember one occasion when he turned up to give his lecture and there was no-one there: there were only two students in our year, my co-student Charles Gheenen was off sick, and I had overslept,

Although I saw a lot more of prof. Dilewijns once I was working for him as a researcher, I didn’t really get to know him all that well. He was rather formal, and none of the people working for him ever got to be on first name terms with him – I was always Mr. Roels to him. The funny thing was that he did use first names for the people on the shop floor, but maybe that was because they were already in place when he was climbing up the ranks from a lecturer to head of the department.

At the time I started my first stint at the laboratory, I still was learning the ropes, and sometimes I wonder what he really thought of me, when some of my reports came back so bloodied in red ink that they virtually required a complete rewrite. Still, I think in the end I learnt to write reports properly, something that was a great help in later years.

I know that prof. Dilewijns sat on the board of Sidmar, the nearby steel making plant, and it helped to get the feel that we weren’t working in an ivory tower: some of the research topics such as dual phase steel we couldn’t have brought into practice without some assistance from a real steel maker. On the other hand, some people who had been working in the laboratory found a position in Sidmar, presumably arising from the regular contacts between both parties.

We as a group of researchers helped prof. Dilewijns out with the oral exams for the course “Metallurgy for non-metallurgists”, something that would have been an impossible chore for one person to do without assistance. At the end of we all celebrated with a bottle of sparkling wine for a job well done. For you wouldn’t believe how soon you start repeating questions from what initially looks like a voluminous syllabus when you have to examine in the order of 200 students.

I will always be grateful to prof. Dilewijns for picking me up for my second stint at the laboratory when things started to look dire after I had come out of the army and had been unemployed for over half a year. The place may only have been temporary, but it helped me find my feet and start looking for a proper job in earnest. That was one lesson I learnt during that period, which is that it’s easier to find a new job when you’re still in work than out of it.

The second period at the laboratory was only for 11 months, but I had my interview with Iscor in July, and received confirmation that they were interested in offering me a job in October. So when prof. Dilewijns called me into his office to bring me the sad news that he had been unable to find an extension to my temporary appointment (and he did look rather uncomfortable doing so) I was able to put his mind at rest with the news that I was well underway getting a new job in South Africa.

I see from the Ugentmemorialis site that prof. Dilewijns died in 2010, having retired in 1997. I’m not totally sure when was the last time I saw prof. Dilewijns in person, but presumably it must have been in December 1983. I must have visited the laboratory on one or two subsequent occasions, but since prof. Dilewijns usually resided in his office and rarely ventured out elsewhere (in fact, when he wanted to discuss something, he didn’t drop into your office, he always had you called to his), I would not have met him then.

Still, in the way he shaped my early career, prof. Dilewijns was an influential albeit slightly enigmatic figure to me.


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