The latest obituaries of notable University alumni, prepared for Oxford Today by Dr Alex May, research editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Norman Willis

21 January 1933 – 7 June 2014

Norman David Willis, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress from 1984 to 1993, died on 7 June 2014, aged 81. Born in Ashford, Middlesex, the son of a labourer, he was educated at Ashford County Grammar School, leaving at 16 to take a job as an office boy at the TGWU headquarters. Following national service he was sponsored by the TGWU to study at Ruskin College, Oxford, after which he enrolled as a student at Oriel College, reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and graduating in 1959. He spent a further 15 years working for the TGWU before joining the TUC as assistant general secretary in 1974 and deputy general secretary from 1977. His period as General Secretary was an unhappy one, coinciding as it did with the miners’ strike, the Wapping dispute, and the rapid decline in both membership and power of the trade unions; though genial and admired for his wit, he was widely criticised for being ineffectual. After his retirement he largely confined his activities to those connected with his hobbies of birdwatching and embroidery; in his Who’s Who entry he described himself as ‘Trustee and Black Bin Bag Operative (Grade 2)’ of the Sunbury-on-Thames Millennium Embroidery Gallery. He was survived by his wife Maureen and their two children.

 

Gemmell Alexander

19 August 1918 – 10 June 2014

(William) Gemmell Alexander, colonial official and promoter of co-operatives, died on 10 June 2014, aged 95. Born In Cheshire, the son of a solicitor, he was educated at Sedbergh School and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read Jurisprudence. During the Second World War he served with the British Expeditionary Force to France, hiding for two months in a French attic before escaping the German occupying forces; later he served with the military police attached to the Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy. Post-war, he joined the Colonial Service, serving in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Mauritius, and Cyprus until 1960, being particularly involved in promoting economic development through setting up co-operatives. Thereafter he worked for the Co-operative Wholesale Society, the International Co-operative Alliance, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, before retiring in 1978. He was survived by four children, his wife Rona having predeceased him.

 

Peter Marsh

15 September 1946 – 9 June 2014

Peter Marsh, social psychologist, died on 9 June 2014, aged 67. Born in Leeds, the son of an itinerant road-builder, he took a diploma in social studies at Ruskin College, Oxford, followed by a degree in Psychology at University College, Oxford, followed by a DPhil in 1981 for a thesis on ‘rule-governed expressions of aggression among football fans and youth’. From 1977 to 1979 he was co-director of the Contemporary Violence Research Centre in Oxford; from 1979 to 1989 he lectured at Oxford Polytechnic; and in the latter year he left to set up MCM Research, based in Oxford, to undertake funded research. In 1997 he also co-founded the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford. He was well known for his work on hooliganism, and his research on pub closing-time violence was cited in the white paper Time for Reform (2000), which led to major changes in the UK licensing laws. He also wrote several books on human communication. He was survived by his wife Patricia and their two children.

 

Ben Whitaker

15 September 1934 – 8 June 2014

Benjamin John Charles (Ben) Whitaker CBE, Labour politician and human rights campaigner, died on 8 June 2014, aged 79. Born in Nottinghamshire, the son of Major-General Sir John Whitaker, he was educated at Eton and, after national service with the Coldstream Guards, at New College, Oxford, where he read Modern History, graduating in 1957. Called to the bar by the Inner Temple, he practised as a barrister before briefly becoming Labour MP in the former Conservative stronghold of Hampstead, from 1966 to 1970. Thereafter he was executive director of the Minority Rights Group (1971-88) and of the Gulbenkian Foundation (UK) from 1988 to 1999. He was also closely involved in Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, and author of a large number of books, particularly on human rights and policing. He was survived by his wife Janet (who became Baroness Whitaker in 1999) and their three children.

 

Roger Mayne

5 May 1929 – 7 June 2014

The photographer Roger Mayne died on 7 June 2014, aged 85. Born In Cambridge, he studied Chemistry at Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1951, before becoming a freelance photojournalist. His work ranged widely – he photographed the artistic community at St Ives and the actors at the Royal Court Theatre (where he met his wife, the playwright Ann Jellicoe), and many of his portraits are in the National Portrait Gallery – but he was probably best known for his street scenes, particularly those taken in Southam Street, North Kensington, in the 1950s and 1960s, and later series taken in China and Japan, and for his landscapes of Dorset after he and his family moved to Lyme Regis. He was survived by his wife and their two children.

 

Sir Andrew Kirkwood

5 June 1944 – 8 May 2014

Sir Andrew Tristram Hammett Kirkwood QC, barrister and judge, died on 8 May 2014, aged 69. The son of a major in the Royal Engineers who was killed in Holland when Kirkwood was six months old, he was educated at Radley College and Christ Church, Oxford, where he read Jurisprudence, graduating in 1965. He was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1966 and soon established a thriving practice, specialising in family law. He became a recorder in 1987 and a judge of the High Court of Justice, Family Division, with the customary knighthood, from 1993 until his retirement in 2008. He was an adviser to the Cleveland child abuse inquiry set up in 1987, chaired the inquiry into child abuse in homes run by Leicestershire County Council in 1992, and in 2001 heard the ‘internet twins’ adoption case (when he ruled that two babies adopted over the internet by a British couple should be returned to the US). He was survived by his wife Penelope and their three children.

 

Sir Michael Heron

22 October 1934 – 7 May 2014

Sir Michal Gilbert Heron, businessman and chairman of the Post Office from 1993 to 1997, died on 7 May 2014, aged 79. The son of a postman, he was the first student to go from his school, St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Academy in Blackheath, to Oxford; after national service in the Royal Artillery he read Modern History at New College, graduating in 1958. At Unilever he worked his way up from salesman to chairman of Batchelors Foods in 1976, main board director of Unilever in 1986, and finally worldwide director of human resources. He was chosen by Michael Heseltine to run the Post Office with a brief to prepare it for part-privatisation; in the event, to Heron’s disappointment neither the Conservative government nor its Labour successor was willing to go down this route. However, he did make efficiencies, leading to record profits by the time he retired. He was knighted in 1996. He was survived by three children from his marriage to Celia Hunter, and by his partner, Liz Spencer.

 

Ann Bonsor

22 September 1923 – 25 April 2014

Ann Elizabeth Bonsor, English scholar, died on 25 April 2014, aged 90. Orphaned early, she was brought up by her uncle, Sir Reginald Bonsor, second baronet, at Liscombe Park, Bedfordshire, but never took to country life. She was educated at Langford Grove, Essex, before being recruited to work first for MI5 at Blenheim Palace and then for SOE as a telegraphist and decipherer, based near Algiers, and later in Italy. On demobilisation she went to St Anne’s College, Oxford, to read English, graduating in 1948 and remaining attached to the college for another twenty years, teaching undergraduates and exchange students. She also did many interviews for Radio Oxford. She was a regular worshipper at the Church of St Mary Magdalen in the city. She never married.

 

Ioan Lewis

30 January 1930 – 14 March 2014

Ioan Myrddin Lewis FBA, anthropologist, died on 14 March 2014, aged 84. He was educated at Glasgow High School before taking a BSc from Glasgow University and enrolling as a student with St Catherine’s Society, Oxford. He was awarded a Diploma in Anthropology in 1952, a BLitt in 1953, and a DPhil in 1957, the latter after working as a research assistant to Lord Hailey on his African Survey; the topic of his thesis was the Somali lineage system. Academic posts followed at the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Glasgow University, University College London, and finally the London School of Economics, where he was Professor of Anthropology from 1969 until his retirement in 1993. He was particularly noted for his work on north-east Africa, including Somalia and Somaliland. He was elected FBA in 1986. With his wife Ann he had four children.

 

David Fisher

13 May 1947 – 28 February 2014

David Richard Fisher, civil servant and moral philosopher, died on 28 February 2014, aged 66. Educated at Reading School and St John’s College, Oxford, where he read Literae Humaniores, after graduating in 1969 he joined the Ministry of Defence in 1970. His civil service career included oversight of the defence budget as well as periods of secondment to NATO and the Cabinet Office. A visiting research fellowship at Nuffield College, Oxford, in 1983-4 resulted in Morality and the Bomb (1985), and after retiring from the civil service in 2007 he studied for a PhD at King’s College London, awarded in 2010 and resulting in an acclaimed book on Morality and War (2011). From 2010 he was a teaching fellow at King’s College London. He was survived by his wife Sophy and their two daughters.

 

Image of Norman Willis courtesy of the TUC.