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Edward Broadhead

Dr Edward Broadhead

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 29 October 2018, of Dr Edward Broadhead, former Reader in Animal Ecology in the Zoology Department.  Dr Broadhead was appointed as Lecturer in Zoology in 1947, being promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1959 and Reader in 1964.  He retired in 1985 after thirty-eight years’ service to the University.  The following tribute has been contributed by Nigel Franks, Emeritus Professor of Animal Behaviour and Ecology, University of Bristol.

Edward Broadhead was a remarkable person.   He was a leading ecologist and entomologist and in many ways represented the very best of how universities used to be.   He was deeply thoughtful, philosophical, wonderfully unworldly and unfailingly kind.   If one began by asking his advice on a specific research problem, there was no knowing where the conversation would go, but it would always somehow touch on the writings of Dante and Edward’s delight in learning Italian.

Edward was a student of Charles Elton at Oxford and hence was the offspring of one of the founding fathers of ecology.   Edward typically chose one of the least flamboyant groups of insects as his focal animals.   He was the expert on the ecology of the Psocids (otherwise known as barklice and booklice).   His studies using these unassuming beasts culminated in research that was recognized by the George Mercer Award for 1968 from the Ecological Society of America principally for his huge paper, with Anthony Wapshere, in Ecological Monographs (1). From studying barklice in Yorkshire, Edward turned his attention to the tropics – with studies in the West Indies and in Panama (the latter involving canopy fogging to retrieve all manner of insects from the tops of tropical trees on both sides of the isthmus). The technique was to send a climbing rope over a tree limb 100, or more, feet up and then pull up a pyrethrum-belching jet engine that would fog the canopy resulting in a shower of insects descending on the choking and bewildered scientists below.   My small contribution to this project was to build an explosive gun to fire fishing line, followed by some twine and then the rope, up into the tree tops.  I still have nightmares about the kit I built (and the project).

Once when Edward was visiting Barro Colorado Island in Panama, a Hollywood producer was also there coincidentally on a recce.   The American told me, rather impishly, that if he had sent to Central Casting for a typical British Academic, he would have been directed to someone remarkably like Edward:  tall, alarmingly thin, quick-witted, always very neatly turned-out, good humoured and charmingly eccentric.   Many years ago I heard a story, possibly apocryphal, that one of his colleagues at Leeds had described Edward “as having both feet planted firmly in mid-air”.   To my mind at least, there is a huge compliment in this. Edward was dedicated to a life of ideas, inspiring teaching, nurturing young scientists and the beauty both of ideas and of the natural world.   If he freed himself from concerns about research income streams, and the like, he was both wise and fortunate so to do.

I write this very fond obituary with some dread partly because Edward was a very skilful wordsmith.   When I was writing up my PhD thesis, Edward would invite me to his house in Alwoodley where Elcy (a fine entomologist in her own right) had provided a light dinner. Edward would first always show me around his absolutely immaculate garden – I have since visited famous gardens on five continents and I have never once seen anything to rival that extraordinary feat of horticulture – and only then would Edward meticulously correct my sentences word by word.   He could not abide a split infinitive and if one is crouching in the text above it will not be through a lack of effort, especially on Edward’s part.

Edward is survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, and several generations of inspired and very grateful students.

(1) Edward Broadhead; Anthony Wapshere (1966) Mesopsocus populations on larch in England – the distribution and dynamics of two closely-related coexisting species of Psocoptera sharing the same food resource. Ecological Monographs 36:327-388