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Gordon Forster

Gordon Forster, BA, FSA

Colleagues will be sorry to hear of the death on 22 July, after a short illness, of Gordon Forster, former Senior Lecturer in and Chairman of the School of History.

An alumnus of the University, who obtained his BA in History in 1949, Gordon undertook postgraduate work at the University of Sheffield before returning to the University in 1955, to which he dedicated his long and distinguished career.

Inspired by Asa Briggs, Gordon was particularly well-known for his devotion to the study of local and regional history as an academic discipline, at a time when it was more often regarded as a second-class subject, or even a distraction. Through tireless research, punctilious attention to detail and nuance, and sheer hard work, he established local and regional history as a serious subject at Leeds and across Higher Education.

As well as conducting meticulous research, Gordon was a lively and engaging teacher with a deep commitment to his students’ wellbeing and success and he served with great distinction as Chairman of the School of History between 1982 and 1985. Gordon’s dedication to his students was evident not just in his generosity with his time and support, but also in his commitment to the School after his retirement in 1993, after which he continued to teach on selected programmes (including the MA in Local and Regional History and training on journal publishing). He was also a true ‘Leeds man’ and was active in a range of University societies and on several University committees as well as being a stalwart of the Senior Common Room.

Throughout his time at Leeds, Gordon worked very closely with local societies and encouraged the School of History to work not only with colleagues in other institutions, but also with amateur historians and antiquarians. He realised from the earliest days of his career how this cross-fertilisation of ideas, sources and perspectives could be used to develop a rich and rewarding discipline. Outside the University, Gordon was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians who was in great demand at academic conferences and as a speaker at local and regional events. He was famous for his insistence upon driving to deliver his talks no matter what horrors the Yorkshire weather threw at him. He was a member of the Archive Advisory Council for West Yorkshire and the judging panel for the Yorkshire History Prize, and he served as President of both the Thoresby Society and the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. He was also the editor of the journal Northern History for an unprecedented fifty years.

On his retirement in 1993, the University recognised Gordon’s outstanding contribution to the institution as a whole by conferring upon him a Life Fellowship. This was the start of a new ‘Leeds chapter’ in which he continued to lend his experience and expertise to the institution and to participate in the many events and dinners organised by and for the Life Fellows.

Gordon will be remembered by generations of students, colleagues and historians – academic and amateur alike – with great respect and with real fondness. His tenacity and drive were tempered with true humanity and kindness.

Gordon’s Service of Thanksgiving will be held at 10.00am on Thursday 3 August, at St John's Church, Church Lane, Adel, LS16 8DW and afterwards for refreshments at Headingley Golf Club (3 minute walk from the Church).

As a mark of esteem, the flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half-mast on the day of the service.