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Obituary: Jill Wren

Colleagues will be sorry to hear of the death of Dr Jill Wren, former Lecturer in the Department of Pure and Applied Biology, on 19 February 2008.

Jill Wrens family originated in Box, Wiltshire, where her father, Jack, was Head of Box School and her mother also taught. By 1935, when Jill was born, the family had moved to Bradford, and Jill and her sister Ann were educated at Bradford Girls Grammar School. Jack Wren was a keen amateur botanist and from her childhood Jill, too, was an enthusiastic gardener. It was this which led her to study Biology at Manchester University, where she obtained a BSc (1957) and where she was to forge lifelong friendships, particularly during her time in halls of residence. Her interest in plant physiology, in particular storage organ development in root crops, was further developed during her PhD study. In 1960 she was offered a position as an Assistant Lecturer in Agricultural Botany at Leeds. Her PhD was awarded some months later, in 1961, and by 1963 she had been promoted to Lecturer.

Jill was to prove a pillar of the Department for over thirty years. Her enthusiasm for teaching was such that she carried an exceptionally heavy teaching load; and her conscientious organisation and the joy she took in her subject meant that her teaching was highly regarded by the large numbers of successive undergraduate cohorts who studied with her. She kept in touch with many of these students after they graduated, continuing to provide advice and support as they developed their own careers. Despite these commitments, she also undertook, with characteristic grace and good humour, a range of administrative duties, including periods as Admissions Tutor, Safety Supervisor and Chair of the Staff-Student Committee. Jill was highly valued within the Department for her ability to dispatch even the most awkward of tasks with tact and quiet efficiency and for her persistence with the knottiest of problems, at which she would continue to work calmly and methodically until they were mastered. As far as her teaching permitted, she continued to pursue her research into plant tissue culture; the effects of atmospheric pollution on plant growth and development (with particular reference to an area of contemporary concern, the implications for any use of plastics in agriculture); the physiology of diseased plants; and storage organs, particularly in carrots and radishes. She initially retired in 1991, but continued to contribute to the teaching of plant physiology on a part-time basis until her full retirement in 1994.

In addition to her academic and administrative duties within the University, Jill also gave nearly two decades of exemplary service as the Universitys representative on the Governing body of Crossley Heath School (the Crossley and Porter Orphans Home as it was formerly known). She cared deeply about the welfare of the children and about equipping them to secure the best possible future for themselves, working by the maxim that everyone with potential should be given the chance to use it. This principle was also reflected in her charitable work she was an active supporter of many charities, but retained a particular interest in the Camphill Village Trust, created to offer opportunities to adults with learning disabilities and other special needs.

Jill will be remembered with gratitude for her selfless contribution to the smooth running and pedagogy of the Department for so many years, and with great affection for her unassuming warmth, generosity and dedication to others. This found expression not only in the unstinting support that she would offer to those struggling with academic or personal difficulties even during her latter years when her own health began to fail her - but also, as her many friends will remember with fondness, in the regular gifts of organically grown produce and flowers from the garden she tended with her late mother.

A funeral service has already taken place, but the family have requested that anyone wishing to make a donation in Jills memory should dedicate this to the Camphill Village Trust.

Published: 21 February 2008