Tony Emeritus: a. retired, but retaining honorary office; n. (pl. -ti) such as professor, etc.

Professor Tony Covington
Professor Tony Covington

It is a rather special moment when Leather Science (or Technology) provides the first ever Emeritus Professor at a University. Yet that is what Professor Tony Covington has achieved at Northampton and on the 9th of July he gave a full lecture theatre the first experience of what an Inaugural Lecture of an Emeritus Professor of Leather Science would be like.

With his new book just out the publishers missed a trick by not having any there on sale and for Tony to sign. I am still busy reading my copy and will review it shortly, but it is very well written and much more in the line of Procter and Heidemann than the leather workers’ handbook.

Tony’s lecture was fascinating in a self-celebratory sort of way as he entertained us to a detail of his career complete with photos. I’m not the one to talk about such photos and details of key life events as I lived in fear while with FootJoy that my wife would give some old photos to the company to be used at one of the sales meetings. The present is tough enough to deal with. Yet it was educational to see how Tony had moved into the leather industry and through to his current senior role and a top industry researcher as well as to be reminded of some fine old colleagues sadly no longer with us.

In his talk he toured the world with the leather industry identifying conferences and University liaisons from China through the US to Brazil. For those not used to leather industry travel this was enlightening but it did remind one or two in the audience who are involved in leather manufacturing that they do this sort of lifetime travel each year as a routine – working one day with an Asian manufacturers and the next meeting with the controlling brand in the USA. “The international aspect of the leather industry is one of its joys.”

Also so many of Tony’s major international contacts are now vital in the line up of relationships which the BSLT has drawn up to create synergy and system in the teaching and research of leather worldwide.

Tony discussed his work on enzymes, showing how difficult it is to translate University research into profitable commercial business, and his finale was one detail of technology in which he explained the Link-Lock theory where the basic shrinkage temperature moves to around 85 degrees Centigrade with the introduction of basic tanning molecules which attach to the collagen chains but do not cross link them. They “get in the way of separation” and then in some instances these molecules link with each other and move the shrinkage temperature towards passing the boil test if we so wish. Sounds too easy, but then so does all good science. “If it simple and more elegant it is almost certainly true”. Great way to end.

Michael Redwood

Monday, 13 July 2009