Obituary : Prof. R. E. Belford

(Following obituary was sent to IITB community by director of IIT Bombay. This is written by his colleagues)

Prof. R. E. Bedford
1926 – 2012Prof. R. E. Bedford, Professor Emeritus at IIT Bombay, passed away in Chennai on 25th June 2012, aged 86. He was a faculty member at IIT Bombay from 1958 to 1986, and was its Acting Director and Director during 1980-81.

After completing his Ph.D. from the University of Madras in 1955, he held a post-doctoral position at IIT Kharagpur before going to the University of Illinois, USA as a Visiting Assistant Professor.  He joined IIT Bombay as an Assistant Professor in its early days — September 1958 — and became full Profesoor in 1966.  He was Head, Department of Electrical  Engineering in 1964-1966, and was the Acting Director and then Director from August 1980 to December 1981.  He retired from IIT Bombay in 1986, and was conferred the lifetime Emeritus Professorship shortly therafter.

Prof. Bedford was one of IIT Bombay’s most admired faculty members,  held in high esteem by students, faculty and staff alike.  A specialist in the theory of electrical machines, he laid the foundation for the country’s pre-eminent group in this area at IIT Bombay.  Prof Bedford had worked for his doctorate degree on the theme of prediction of performance of electrical machines using concepts of electromagnetic fields. Continuing   his work at IIT Bombay, he published benchmark research papers on space-time harmonics and design of machines. Many students worked under his guidance for doctorate research. His book on electrical machines, co-authored with his colleague in IIT Kharagpur, was a ‘bible’  in machine theory in those times. Over the years, Prof Bedford migrated, with ease, to other topics like network synthesis and power electronics,  thus straddling both the “heavy'” and “light” current domains — as they were then known — of electrical engineering.

As an academic administrator, he led the Senate Committee, till today known as the Bedford Committee, which resulted in the far-sighted academic re-structuring of IIT Bombay, which continues till today.  He  served as Acting Director and then Director with distinction for about 16 months in 1980-81.

Professor Bedford was a true scholar, pursuing knowledge for its own sake, and always interested in new ideas not only from his own field of  specialization but other areas as well.  He was well known for his  Socratic method of teaching, using questioning and discussion to stimulate critical thinking. Students and colleagues soon came to realize that his quizzical doubts of various points of electrical engineering  indicated not a lack of understanding, but rather the beginning of a  deeper probing. He thus trained a generation of students and colleagues in non-dogmatic and open thinking, not only about technical matters, but  about academic issues in general.  He was one of a small band of influential faculty members in the formative years of IIT Bombay who  created the ethos of an open academic environment, which continues in  IIT Bombay till today.

Professor Bedford will be remembered by his colleagues and students at IIT Bombay as the quintessential gentleman, informal, warm and accessible, having a great sense of humour, and as a caring mentor for  students and young colleagues. His informality carried over to his dress style. Once at an important conference, his colleagues remember that one of the captains of industry remarked, “What, Bedford, you’re in shirt sleeves!” To which Professor Bedford replied with his inimitable good  humour, “If I may paraphrase Gandhiji, you are dressed enough for us both!”  Professor Bedford also enjoyed many non-curricular activities. He  was a puzzle solver par excellence, who routinely completed the (then difficult) Times crossword before the 10:30 am class.  He will also be fondly remembered for his portrayal of Professor Higgins trying to  each circuit theory to a recalcitrant Eliza (played by Professor Jimmy Isaac) in the IIT spoof version of My Fair Lady.

The legacy that Professor Bedford created during his years at IIT Bombay will live on in many important ways.

May his soul rest in peace.

IIT Bombay

[1] A student remembers
[2] I am still struggling to find out his full name. Rangaiah Emanuel Bedford (courtesy, comment 1)


Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

2 thoughts on “Obituary : Prof. R. E. Belford”

  1. Someone has asked for Prof. R. E. Bedford's full name. His full name is Rangaiah Emanuel Bedford.I was Prof. R. E. Bedford's student during my M. Tech in Electrical Machines & Drives during 1978-80. He was my M. Tech thesis supervisor during 1979-80 when he was the deputy director. He taught us a course "Physical Phenomenon in Electrical Machines" that dealt with fields & circuits in electrical machines. During his lectures, we often used to wonder from where those wonderful mathematical equations describing electrical machines were coming, without him referring to even a minute piece of paper. He was an extraordinary teacher, so simple and so great.Here I want to narrate an incident. My M. Tech thesis work was related to comparative study of current source and voltage source inverter fed induction motor drives performance using experimentally determined machine constants. When I went to meet him at his deputy director's office (on the 1st floor of the main building) with one of my experimental results, he asked me to show the results and also the procedure. He said my experimental procedure was wrong due to a minor error and asked me to repeat the elaborate experiment. I accepted and went back to the lab, made the setup all over again and followed his procedure. This time I got the same values for the parameters. I was upset since he made me redo the experiment and I got the same values as before. When I ran into his office and told him I got the same values this time too, he asked me "So you are asking me why I asked you to repeat the experiment?" I said "Yes". He said "That's because your procedure was wrong". I accepted his comment again. When I was about to leave his room, he said, something that changed me forever, "Wait a minute, remember, if the procedure is right, result will follow".He once told me when he was at Anna University (Guindy College of Engineering) after his retirement from IIT Bombay in 1986, that he did his PhD in 1954 and jokingly asked me if I was born then! (I wasn’t FYI). His M.E. thesis examiner was M. G. Say (author of the book on AC Machines) and his PhD thesis examiner was Parker Smith. He was a faculty at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, when Van Valkenburg and Bardeen were also there.I kept close contact with him even after he retired from IIT Bombay. He used to live in an apartment at Koramangala in Bangalore, next to Prof. Issac. The last time I met him was in 2011 in Chennai at his nephew's house where they were taking good care of him.We have lost him, but he will remain in our heart and mind for ever.Dr. S. R. Narayana

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I did some search on google scholar but could not find his find name. Curiously enough, IIT Bombay official obituary did not mention his full name. I'll take the liberty to use information provided by you in my blog.

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