Saturday, 11 November 2017

Finally I meet Jack Holmes, an Anglo American legend

One of the things I like most about the MEI blog is that it has put me in touch with people who I had totally lost contact with over the years. Roger Thomas was acting plant metallurgist on the Nchanga concentrator when I arrived in Zambia in late 1969 and he and his wife Janet left Chingola in early 1971. We totally lost touch until I traced him via a blog posting 4 years ago, and since then we have regularly got together, earlier in this year for dinner in their home in Constantia, only a short drive from Cape Town's Vineyard Hotel.
Roger put me in touch with Jack Holmes, one of their friends in nearby Tokai, who was also at Nchanga when I arrived, although I never met him, as he was Metallurgical Manager at the time, a highly exalted position, but obviously a highly respected man who was talked of in hushed tones!
Unfortunately Roger is unwell at the moment, but last night we were honoured to have dinner at the Vineyard Hotel with Jack, and for him to meet the MEI team.
Jack (2nd left) with the MEI team
Jack retired in 2000 at the age of 70, and it was fascinating to talk to him about his long career as a top rank mineral processor. He graduated as a chemical engineer at King's College, London in 1953, and, after a brief spell with the Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell, in 1957 he was in Kitwe, then Northern Rhodesia, with Anglo American, the company he would remain with for the rest of his career. His career progression was very rapid, and in 1964 he became Metallurgical Superintendent at Nchanga, and Metallurgical Manager in 1968 at the remarkably young age of 38.
Our separate paths at Nchanga crossed only very briefly, as Jack left in 1970 and moved south, first to Lusaka, and then in 1974 to Anglo's head office in Johannesburg, where he held senior positions in various operating divisions, becoming Technical Director of Anglo American in 1978. He held this position for just over 12 years, when, partly because the responsibilities of the position had changed, and partly for family reasons, he decided to offer his resignation to the Chairman. He was then asked to stay on to undertake a number of very interesting tasks ranging from running an AIDS research programme, to chairing a Venture Capital Company operating in Israel, to preparing responses to Zambia’s announced intention to reprivatise the Copperbelt mines, and including visits to the Soviet Union to look at Gold Projects then offered for sale.
What an amazing career Jack has had and what a great start to our week at the Vineyard Hotel!
Twitter @barrywills


  1. Hi, Barry,
    I was privileged to be 2nd assistant - twenty times removed - to Jack Holmes, in the late sixties, at Nchanga in Zambia. Jack was brilliant in the extreme, forward thinking, superb in his analyses of situations, always ready to listen to the opinions of others - and he was an absolute gentleman. The industry has regrettably failed to recognise and acknowledge Jack's massive contributions to technology and to extractive metallurgy, in particularly the field of solvent extraction.

    I have personally been twice awarded gold medals - Sir Ronald Prain and Futers - and I owe these to the upbringing I had from Jack Holmes, who was always an inspiration.

    I would hope that one of these days, Jack will be appropriately and publicly recognised for the massive influence he has had on the positive evolution of the extractive metallurgical industry. Only those who have worked for him can truly appreciate the stature of the man.

    Yours etc
    Ken Severs
    B.Sc., C.Eng., P.Eng. (California), F.I.Chem.E., F.I.M.M.

  2. Hi Barry, It was my good fortune and pleasure to have known Jack from the time he interviewed me in my final Chem.Eng year at Leeds University for a position on the Copperbelt, to the time of his retirement. He was a landmark figure in Anglo American and a strong believer and supporter of the technical disciplines. I have fond memories of the interactions I had with Jack on many interesting projects (always as a junior) and agree with Ken Severs that his contribution to the extractive metallurgical industry has not been fully appreciated.

    Kind regards and best wishes for the MEI conference,
    Rod Whyte.

  3. Hi Barry, Ken and John,

    Let me echo Ken’s tribute to Jack Holmes. It was Jacks foresight which led to the treatment of current and reclaimed tailings at Nchanga through the Tailings Leach Plant by acid leaching , solvent extraction and electrowininning. The solvent extraction plant was the largest in the world at the time and may rank up there even today (Barry can confirm this or otherwise).
    In relation to the broader business role Jack played which Barry mentions , Jack promoted the return of Anglo American to Zambia. This took place but not on the terms Jack proposed . Had it been on his terms there is a good chance Anglo would still be there today.
    Kind Regards
    Les Stewart


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