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