Ian Graham-Bryce remembered

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At the memorial service for the former chairman of Rye Arts Festival Ian Graham-Bryce in St Mary’s Church on Tuesday December 13, tributes were given by friends Patrick Nobes and Christopher Rowe and his son Robert Graham-Bryce. Here is that of Patrick Nobes. 

My friend,  our friend, Ian, had a lively sense of humour.  One of his last jokes was to leave me a legacy that everyone would see as a great honour.  He suggested that I deliver his eulogy. And the joke is having ten minutes to do it in!

One minute per eight years of his life to speak of the man whose lacrosse boots I felt unworthy to unloose. (How and where did he learn to play lacrosse? Did they really play it at his grammar school in the tough north? Was it derived from some terrifying Viking weaponry practice? I always meant to ask him, but always forgot. Anyhow, he went on to win his Blue representing his University, and to play for Surrey and the South of England.)

I digress. I start at the time he went up to University College, Oxford, where we first met. He had won an Open Award at the tender age of 16, and appeared in the college, aged 17, a most pleasant youth, his fresh face, and courteous manner to his elders and betters, including me, commending him to all, and rather concealing the keenness of his fine intellect. He completed his time at Oxford with a First in the first part of his chemistry degree, an MA, a BSc and a doctorate.

As I survey Ian’s achievements in the years that followed I think of Shakespeare’s words: “He doth bestride the world like a colossus, and we  petty men walk under” . . . him. Dr Ian Graham-Bryce, Companion of the British Empire, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Honorary Doctor of Laws,  held major posts in scientific research, industry and academia, being at some time Chairman or President of more than twenty of the most important bodies concerned with his remarkably wide area of knowledge.

These included World President of the Society of Chemical Industry; President,  Association of Applied Biologists; Chairman, UK Ocean Deep Drilling Programme Review Group; President, British Crop Protection Council and Shell International’s Global Head of Environmental Affairs. Who’s Who, or google, will give you the full list.

He also published nearly a hundred learned papers, and was co-author of Physical Principles of Pesticide Behaviour, looked upon as the bible of agrochemical research and knowledge. Clearly, Ian was one of the world leaders in the development of insecticides and the related areas.

He was also among the earliest scientists to realise from his work in the Antarctic the onset and dangers of global warming.   His various posts took him to the four corners of the earth, to Antarctica, China, California, Dundee, Wales and even to Rye!

Ian, the man and friend, was a person of singular determination, who stood up to be counted even when this meant going against those in power. When the Agricultural Research Council proposed the closure of Rothamsted Experimental Station, where he was Deputy Director, Ian fought to keep it open, arguing that understanding the relationship of molecular structure and biological activity was of significant long term value to the world’s population and mattered more than the immediate commercial interest.

Without Ian’s determined fight the most highly-used insecticide in the world  might never have been developed. When shortsighted government cuts threatened the closure of East Malling Research Station and its world-quality research, Ian, its Director, fought to keep it open, and succeeded in his aim.

He had a healthy regard for high standards. As Vice Chancellor and Principal of Dundee University,  this was said about him: “When he took up his post, the university’s ratings in teaching quality were in the middle of the league table.. by the end of his Principalship the university had risen to the top in a number of subject areas.”

He was an adept handler of people, witness the number of bodies who made him their chairman. And see the way his management skills guided the 400 staff at East Malling, and the 900 at Rothamsted.

Look at his role in increasing the size and importance of Dundee University. However, while being the Principal of such an important institution, this could still be said of him by the Chairman of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland: “He was unfailing in  his attendance – not true of all Principals – always on  top of his papers, and always ready with pertinent and helpful comments, and with a dash of humour too, which was always appreciated.”

And hear these words taken from the laudation at the conferment of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, “his industry, his integrity, and his sense of humour were greatly appreciated by his colleagues. (He) will long be remembered as a distinguished and beloved Principal.”

Wordsworth said: “That best portion of a man’s life, (are) his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love”. “He was unfailingly kind to me in my first year,” say more than one of his Oxford contemporaries. “He was easy to talk to, always ready to listen to others and a very warm person.”

Fifty years on, when he had taken on many demanding responsibilities, he was asked to add to them the leadership of his Year’s Team to raise funds to bring youngsters from impoverished backgrounds to his old college. He unhesitatingly undertook the task.  That fund has recently topped £1m, but sadly the news did not reach him before his death.

If he had not put that task on a level with those tasks  that earned him international fame, the appeal may well have foundered, and some very bright youngsters from humble backgrounds may never have reached Oxford.  In the same area he accepted the chairmanship of his college’s Old Members’ Trust, one of whose tasks it is to provide funds to college applicants who need help. Again, only College members would know of this work, but it was done charitably from the generosity of his heart.

The Master of the college writes praising Ian’s chairmanship and referring to him as “a wise and gentle man.”  He had also been instrumental in setting up a new area in college for the use of post-graduates – until then they were baseless, neither the big fish of the Senior Common Room nor the fowl of the undergraduates’ Junior Common Room.

He was loyal and entirely reliable. What happened on the last occasion his university friends and I would have seen him before his illness? “I am sad not to be able to come to the dinner,” he told me, “but it is my duty on that evening to be here at the Rye Festival.” These few examples of Ian’s fine character, of his thought for others and his desire to help even the  most humble, come through people I know who have worked with him. I am certain that from each post he held, people could give similar examples.

And now a few endearing oddments: He was an avid fan of Manchester City; a fine swimmer formerly, and latterly a windsurfer, ski-er, and golfer; a keen horticulturalist and grower of olives; a lover of opera and classical music whose tears could well up when listening to such pieces as Strauss’s Four Last Songs; a loving and beloved husband, father and grandfather, whose family he saw as his greatest achievement; a great reader, and quoter of much poetry that he had by heart.

And it is with a piece of lovely poetic writing that I shall end. You must take much of it as a metaphor, (though I feel Ian should literally have been a knight.)  There are very few people who deserve such a tribute, but Ian did. It is Sir Ector’s lament over Sir Launcelot from Sir Thomas Malory’s fifteenth century Morte d’Arthur:

“And now I dare say,” said Sir Ector, “thou Sir Launcelot, there thou lyest, that thou were never matched of earthly knight’s hand. And thou were the most courteous knight that ever bare shield. And thou were the truest friend that ever bestrode horse, and thou were the truest lover . . . that ever loved woman, and thou were the kindest man that ever strake with sword.

“And thou were the goodliest person who ever came among press of knights, and thou were the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies, and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in rest.” And there was weeping and dolour out of measure.

Rest in peace, Ian. We give thanks for what you have given us and the world..

 

Photo: Rye News library

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