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John R Lewis, PhD, DSc

Dr John Lewis, former Director of the Wellcome Marine Laboratory and international authority on rocky shore ecology, died on 9 October 2012.

Dr Lewis (known almost universally as Jack) was born in 1924.  He was a pupil at Oldershaw Grammar School, in Wallasey, Cheshire, from 1935 until 1942.  With the Second World War in progress, he then served as a Sub-Lieutenant (Pilot) in the Fleet Air Arm, later being medically discharged after contracting TB.  He entered the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1945.   Excelling in his studies, he graduated in Zoology in 1949 with one of the department's rarely-awarded Firsts.

Remaining at Aberystwyth to read for a PhD, Jack Lewis began what was to be a lifetime of research on rocky shore ecology, involving the investigation of the development and distribution of animal and plant organisms in the area where land and sea meet, between the high and low tide zones.  Until that time, there had been only a few intensive surveys and these had either been limited in terms of the size of the area they examined or had been confined to a single species.  By dint of his extensive travels and studies around the coastline of the British Isles, initially in an old converted ambulance and accompanied by his wife, Betty, and first collaborator, Harry Powell, Jack Lewis transformed the knowledge and understanding of littoral flora and fauna.  Awarded his PhD in 1952, he spent a further two years in Aberystwyth carrying out post-doctoral research before being appointed Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Zoology at Leeds in 1954.  He was promoted to Lecturer in 1955 and to Senior Lecturer in 1964.  He was an outstanding teacher, possessed of a warmth and enthusiasm to which his students readily responded.  At the same time, his reputation and influence as a scholar grew through his papers.  In 1964, his book The Ecology of Rocky Shores, which became a classic text in it its field, was published.  Covering the whole of the British Isles, this comprehensive, comparative account elucidated the make-up by species of the major types of shore communities and their local or wider geographical variations, and also examined general themes such as the factors which influenced local and geographical distribution.

On the initiative of the Head of the Department of Zoology, Professor Jimmy Dodd, FRS, and with financial support from the Wellcome Trust, a permanent research laboratory – the Wellcome Marine Laboratory – was opened at Robin Hood’s Bay in 1964.  Relocating to the Laboratory – of which he was designated Director in 1973 – Jack Lewis seized the opportunity to direct his considerable energy, forcefulness and organizing skill towards constructing a centre of expertise which, although small in numbers of staff and to some extent geographically isolated, lacked nothing in scientific vitality and vigour.  He continued his research on the ecology of rocky intertidal habitats, with an important series of intensive and continuous studies of key species including mussels, barnacles and limpets.  His standing and his enthusiasm attracted to the Laboratory a succession of research students, three of whom went on to become professors of Marine Biology in British universities.   Research students found in him a mentor generous with his time, guidance and support – and one who encouraged them to publish on their own, rather than jointly with him.  From the late 1960s onwards, his services as an environmental risk assessor were regularly sought for projects in the UK and overseas, in locations including Ireland, Hong Kong, Kuwait and the Cayman Islands.  He was a member of various committees of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) concerned with marine surveillance and conservation.  In 1970, he was awarded the degree of DSc by the University of Wales.

Jack Lewis’s work on the central aspects of shore ecology convinced him that the establishment of natural biological baselines was an essential requirement for the development of a realistic strategy for marine pollution control.  As a result of his cogent advocacy a NERC Littoral Surveillance Team was set up under his leadership in 1978 to work from Robin Hood's Bay on a study of long-term variation in the reproduction and recruitment of common British species of littoral organisms.  An extension of this work was the collaboration of eleven European countries in a series of marine studies covering Norway to the Mediterranean.  The project was overseen by an international committee chaired by Jack and co-ordinated by the Commission of the European Communities in Brussels.

In the light of the substantial economies required of universities at the beginning of the 1980s, the decision, controversial in some quarters, was taken to close the Wellcome Marine Laboratory at the end of 1982.  Dr Lewis took retirement in the following year.  In 1985, his peers honoured his scientific achievements with a Festschrift – The Ecology of Rocky Coasts, edited by two of his former research students, Geoff Moore and Ray Seed.  He continued to remain active in his field and, in 1999, was chosen by the Ecological Society of America to receive its Honorary Member award for that year.  The citation for the award stated that generations of ecologists around the world had been inspired by the distinguished, visionary work carried out by Jack Lewis over the course of his fifty-year career.

Dr Lewis is survived by his wife, Betty, and sons Richard and David.

The funeral service has taken place.