Remembering Gavin Stairs

The family celebrated Gavin’s life on Sunday, October 17. My cousin Joy Struthers’s wonderful photos captured the essence of the man, the family and the afternoon!  Pics below.

Gavin worked as an engineer for the Physics Department at U. of Toronto for 18 years, helping to create a calorimeter at CERN in Switzerland. He would have been chuffed to read these remarks from the world of physics.

William Frisken, Professor Emeritus, York U. I really appreciated Gavin’s team leader’s paper, “My Life in Physics”, He talks about “mechanical (and digital) genius” Gavin’s contribution from p. 45-54. A fascinating read, and I wish I understood more:) Bill wrote me:”Our marvellous genius, Gavin, has passed. Or I should say, your mavellous genius, as it is many years since we lost him to you. Really, he was his own marvellous genius, and a gem of many facets. Anyway, I believe the 25 years you and Gavin spent together formed the best part of his life, despite his many triumphs as an engineering genius in the land of experimental particle physics.
I include a photo of Gavin et al. posing with the first 14-tonne module of our very successful calorimeter for the ZEUS
experiment at the DESY Lab in Hamburg. This was the first of 26 such modules we produced in a factory Gavin et al
designed, built up (from a bare warehouse) and operated for three years from 1988 – 91. Gavin, Doug Hasell and I designed this huge calorimeter, built a smaller prototype (only 4 tons) in the Physics Dept basement at York to be tested at CERN (Geneva) and won fierce design wars with other European collaborators. But our 26 modules would only be half of the final calorimeter. Part of the large ZEUS collaboration’s decision was that the other 26 modules would be built by our closest competitors (but to our design) at NIKHEF in Amsterdam. That meant several years of travel for Gavin and me to Amsterdam and Hamburg to make sure both halves functioned the same.
Amazing! I worked with Gavin for only half a dozen of my 88 years, but he fills a large fraction of my recollections.
This celebratory picture (with glasses raised) would have been taken in about 1989. (Just before you and Gavin got
together?) He looks happy in these photos, but even happier in the later ones you show in your Gavin Memorial article. You changed his life, Penny, and knowing Gavin, I’ll bet he changed yours too.
Stay safe.
With deepest sympathy,
Bill Frisken”

John F. Martin, Professor Emeritus, U. of Toronto: Very sorry and shocked to hear about Gavin – Sir Gavin as we used to call him sometimes! He was a brilliant guy and I regarded him as a good friend during our working years together, from about 1976 at Carleton where I first came across him. 
I passed on the news to several of his former colleagues and got responses like this:

It’s sad news, but I was happy to learn that Gavin had such a great life post HEP!   

Gavin was instantly unforgettable.  His business card slogan was something like “Let us think for you”.   It seemed strange to me at first, but his solutions were innovative, doable and very welcome.   Now Gavin is also  gone … I found out a bit more in the London Free Press (from googling: Gavin Stairs  London Ontario).


He was an engineering genius.


I’m very sorry to hear that Gavin died. He made an inestimable contribution to ZEUS and working with him was always great fun.


Gavin was one of the people I really enjoyed getting to know in the ZEUS group. It looks like he had a good life after leaving the world of calorimeters.

Joy’s photos from October 17:

Gavin’s photos
Gavin’s photos with his step-sister Elizabeth Cote
Nephews Jesse, Zaheed, Jordan… and Kaya

4 thoughts on “Remembering Gavin Stairs

  1. Brenda Hutton says:

    I am sharing a poem of yours Riparian with SLR poetry group. Lovely to read about Gavin and see the photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bill says:

    It’s fantastic to read so many wonderful tributes to such a talented, wise and caring man.

    Liked by 1 person

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