Bill Wallace

6th May 2011 at 01:00
The well-travelled academic was a union leader and an expert on Sino- Soviet affairs

Bill Wallace, who has died aged 84, was a world-renowned expert on East European and Sino-Soviet affairs and one of the UK's most highly- respected commentators.

The son of a Glasgow shipping clerk, he grew up in Rutherglen, won a scholarship to Hutchesons' Grammar School and went on to become dux and top of the bursary competition for Glasgow University.

In 1944, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was involved in mine-sweeping operations in Malta, Ceylon and Singapore, before leaving the service in 1947.

By this time, the Soviet Union was playing a new role on the world stage and, as a history student at Glasgow University, he learnt Russian and began to travel to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. He then went on to take an MA in Czechoslovak Regional Studies at the University of London.

Following his graduation, academic posts were initially in short supply, which led him to take a job at the Highgate branch of St Pancras Burgh Library, drawing up an infectious diseases list to enable books handled by children with measles to be destroyed. His first lecturer's post was in the United States at the University of Pittsburgh where, teaching contemporary East European History in McCarthyite America, his iconoclastic tendencies emerged.

Between then and 1967 he held various history posts at the universities of London, Aberdeen and Durham before being appointed as one of the first professors at the New University of Ulster in Coleraine.

He also served as pro vice-chancellor and helped to guide the future of the profession at national level, through his work with the Association of University Teachers of which he became president in the mid-1970s and later its Scottish chairman.

In 1979 he was appointed director of the Institute of Soviet and East European Studies at Glasgow University, which thrived under his leadership. He followed and commented on the opening up of the Eastern Bloc and the emerging reforms in China, where he forged strong academic and personal links.

In the mid-1980s, the institute was asked by the Chinese to help them brush up on their knowledge of the neighbouring Russians and he and his team established close contacts with several of China's most influential academic centres.

Keen for Scotland to seize opportunities in new markets, Wallace was one of the key figures in the twinning of Glasgow with Rostov on Don in 1986 and Dalian in China in 1997. In 1991 he received the Lord Provost's medal for services to education in Glasgow.

In retirement he was a visiting professor at Sunderland University, and a frequent commentator on world events.

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