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Bob Eyre

We are very sorry to have to let members know of the death, on 28 November 2006, of Dr S R (Bob) Eyre, former Senior Lecturer in the School of Geography. Appointed Assistant Lecturer in 1952, Dr Eyre was promoted to Lecturer in 1954 and to Senior Lecturer in 1965.

The obituary that follows has been contributed by friends and former colleagues in the School of Geography:

Bob Eyre joined the then Department of Geography in October 1952, having graduated from Nottingham and taken his PhD at Sheffield on the upper limit of cultivation in Derbyshire. Bob was an inspiring biogeographer, whose travels on wartime service as a meteorologist in the Fleet Air Arm had taken him to the four corners of the globe so his writing about world vegetation always had the freshness that personal acquaintance brings.

Bob was ahead of his time. In the 1970s he was already deeply concerned by the impact of people on the environment and his famous book The Real Wealth of Nations documented the relationship between environmental processes and the demands by populations in all regions of the world.

Bob was very much the 'resources man of his age' and one of the first to be raising awareness about sustainability - condemning the developers and those who seemed to think that most natural resources were renewable! He was forever pointing out that economic theory was almost entirely focused on economic growth... not economic decline or even stability... and therefore most economics did not recognise the constraints on economic development that shortages of resources would create. This was one of his pet topics! Maybe not much has changed in the last thirty years... although the concept of sustainability has now been so widely embraced.

He was a major figure in the world of the undergraduate geographers through the years. His text book, Vegetation and Soils: a world picture (1964) was THE book that every student obtained one way or another (many copies were passed on from one generation of first year students to another through the Union book store). This classic book became the key reference in biogeography for many, many years on a worldwide basis. A colleague recalls visiting western Canada in the 1970s and an eminent Canadian ecologist saying: You are from Leedsthats where Bob Eyre is, isnt it!

Most of that generation considered that Bob's lectures were the ones that they most enjoyed, were the most carefully prepared and were the most professionally delivered. When he lectured he did so with the commitment, flair and the passion of a preacher. Bob enjoyed teaching and gained the love and respect of undergraduates. His teaching was presented in a magisterial manner, always given in his black gown and he would rather use words of five syllables than of two!

He ran a fieldtrip to North Wales for many years which was a marvellous introduction to landscape and ecology for many students. His 3rd year option on Biogeography and Conservation was enjoyed by a whole generation of biogeographers who subsequently found employment in universities across the world.

Bob was very active in the Biogeography Study Group of the Institute of British Geographers (IBG), and a respected external examiner for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. His standing in the scientific community was evident in his election as, successively, Secretary, Recorder and President of Section E of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Bob was the sort of academic who could find time for his newer and younger colleagues, being generous with his time and offering them support, advice and encouragement. His colleagues thoroughly enjoyed Bobs company and he also educated them in the appreciation of fine wine.

Even after his official retirement in 1982, Bob was a frequent visitor to the School of Geography engaging in debate with his former colleagues. During his retirement Bob continued to lecture to local societies with the same verve and perfection that he brought to any task he undertook.

Dr Eyre came from a farming family and married a farmers daughter, Molly. There are two sons, Jonathan and Nicolas.

He had a sincere, caring relationship with his colleagues and his students, and it was easy to develop a real affection for him. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him socially or professionally.