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Sandy Baker

Dr R.A. (Sandy) Baker

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 3 June 2017, of Dr Sandy Baker, former Assistant Director of Combined Studies.

Richard (Sandy) Baker was born in Warrington on 25th December 1931. He remained a proud Lancastrian even during his many years in Yorkshire (never quite bringing himself to recognise the boundary changes that later moved his home town into Cheshire). He attended Boteler Grammar School in Warrington from where he went on to read Zoology at University College, Durham. After graduation he taught both biology and zoology in secondary, further and higher education, including at the Department of Biology at Brunel University. He was awarded an MSc and a PhD from the University of London.

Sandy moved from Brunel to Leeds in 1968 as Assistant Director of Combined Studies, working with Directors Dr Bill Williams, and later Dr Chris Hatton. His rôle was to oversee and develop combined degrees in the biological sciences, an objective he more than fulfilled during twenty-four years at the University. Sandy’s passion for combined studies was based on a belief that they offered both academic rigour and the excitement of opportunity and variety, a combination that could inspire both students and educators. The breadth of academic provision at the University is now well-established, but when Sandy arrived at Leeds there was far less flexibility for students to combine disciplines or to work across academic boundaries. He worked tirelessly to convince the sceptics, both at local and at national level. He was an enthusiastic speaker and participant at conferences and events, and his commitment was borne out by the high-quality graduates that the Leeds combined studies programmes produced and the popularity of the programmes amongst students.

Sandy was also a collegiate ‘team player’, contributing to University governance through his membership of Boards and Committees.  He maintained a close association with the Department of Zoology (later Pure and Applied Biology) as a popular lecturer in invertebrate biology. This was supported by his wide-ranging research into mites and ticks, which he presented at European and International Acarological conferences and he was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Biology (now the Royal Society of Biology).  In later years he developed an interest in the history of the biological sciences, producing papers on eminent Leeds scientists including L. C. Miall and W. Garstang, both of whom are now commemorated through University buildings.

Sandy took formal early retirement in 1992 but returned to Pure and Applied Biology as a Senior Teaching Fellow for five years, and continued to pursue his diverse research interests. From 1997 to 2002 he found a new rôle as Curator of the University Biology Museum, a rôle in which he excelled and which was well-suited to his wide-ranging knowledge, his respect for scholarship and historical record, and his inexhaustible stock of good humour and stories – his tours of the museum were always popular events. Sandy was later instrumental in cataloguing the collection of microscope slides in the University Biology Museum and in the transfer of the collection to Leeds City Museums.

Following his final retirement from the University, when he became a Visiting Research Fellow, Sandy continued his keen interest in mites, publishing work both on his own and with colleagues in Britain, Poland and Bosnia.  He also expanded his interest in the history of science, publishing papers on the eminent naturalists J. Sinel, R. J. Tillyard and C. Longfield, as well as on the rôle played by D. W. Ewer on University teaching in Ghana, where Sandy had spent some time.  He was also senior author of papers on J. Needham and on the work of E. T. Browne on the Valencia Harbour survey in Ireland in the 1890s.

He remained an active member of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society and the Leeds Microscopical Society and was also a member of the Wharfedale Naturalists and of the British Dragonfly Society. His wide interests also included scientists on postage stamps, exhibiting his collection at a meeting of the Leeds Philatelic Society, of which he was also a member.

Sandy was an active and committed member of the Menston Methodist Church, where he acted as Steward and also helped regularly in their café.

He will be remembered by the University community with great respect for his careful and detailed approach to research, his inspirational teaching, and his tenacity in developing and promoting combined studies.  He will also be remembered with affection for his patient advice and support to students and colleagues.  He was always very approachable and his knowledge and experience, friendly and generous disposition, courtesy and good humour (and his exuberance when Bradford City won) will be sadly missed by his family and all his many friends. He was a devoted and loving husband, father and grandfather and he leaves behind his wife Pat, his children Kathryn and David, and his grandson Jack.

The funeral will be held at 1.30pm on Monday 19th June at Menston Methodist Church, 43 Main Street, Menston, LS29 6NB, on which day the flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half-mast in Sandy’s memory.