Ronald Hedley was born in Hebburn, County Durham on 12 September 1917. The son of a master wheelwright, he was the only one of five children in his family to attend grammar school, which he followed with an MA in Latin and French then a diploma in education at Durham University.
After graduating in 1938, Professor Hedley went to Evreux in Normandy to lecture in English at a teacher training college, although he returned to England in 1939 to join the Royal Artillery. Rising to the rank of captain, he led a unit of howitzers ashore in Normandy just after D-Day and commandeered his old college on behalf of the British Expeditionary Force. He was welcomed with a great party, as the cider and Calvados hidden away during the German occupation were dug up from the garden.
Upon returning from the war, Professor Hedley worked as a teacher, but in 1948 switched to an administrative role for the Gateshead local education authority. Two years later he moved on to become assistant director of education in Sunderland and then, in 1964, deputy director of education for the City of Nottingham, responsible for the Nottingham Regional College of Technology and the Nottingham College of Art and Design. When the colleges came together to form Trent Polytechnic in 1970, he was the natural choice as first director.
Despite having to operate under significant budgetary constraints, Professor Hedley oversaw a huge increase in student numbers as well as the incorporation of the Nottingham College of Education at Clifton. Deeply committed to the teaching of practical, industrially related engineering, he was proud that the polytechnic trained more production engineers than any other higher education establishment in the UK. He famously swept into the Department of Education and Science on one occasion and persuaded officials to reverse their decision to cut the college’s advanced engineering courses.
Although he retired in 1980, Professor Hedley was made an honorary doctor of Nottingham Trent in 1993 as part of a ceremony in which ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean also received honorary degrees. Referring to Professor Hedley’s role in laying the groundwork for Nottingham Trent’s progression to university status in 1992, the public orator cited the views of a senior manager: “He was the architect and the rest of us were running around with buckets and spades. In fact he was more than the architect, he was the clerk of works as well!”
Professor Hedley died on April after a short illness arising from complications relating to earlier abdominal surgery. He is survived by a son and a daughter.