Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Terry Baker 1936-2006

Terry Baker, an emeritus professor and one of the most-cited experts in his scientific field, who has died aged 69, had a wicked sense of humour. He once described himself as "an expert on bollocks”, though whether he was referring to his work on reproductive biology or to his engagement in academic politics was never clear.
As a scientist, Terry was a leading figure in the study of mammalian reproduction, from the structure of chromosomes to the effects of radiation on ovaries. As an astute academic politician, he rose from a secondary school science teaching post to become head of biomedical sciences and pro-vice-chancellor at Bradford University for three years from 1986, later chairing its school of life sciences.
Born in Brighton, Terry was schooled in Coventry before taking his first degree, in zoology, at Bangor in 1959. A Birmingham PhD in medicine (1964) was eventually followed by an Edinburgh DSc. Terry joined Birmingham University as a research student in anatomy, becoming a lecturer in 1967.
He moved to Edinburgh, where he concentrated on obstetrics and gynaecology and built a prolific body of journal articles on human and other mammalian procreation, under his own name and in co-authorship. Unusually among ambitious academics, he was happy to credit his laboratory technicians as joint authors.
He continued to publish up to the eve of his retirement. His first scientific paper, dealing with germ cells in human ovaries, is still regularly quoted four decades after its appearance. Throughout his career, Terry made friends among the ancillary workers at his universities: lab hands, security staff and cleaners at Birmingham, Edinburgh and Bradford were on first-name terms with him. In the arcane world of academic politics, he believed in “bullying the bullies” and usually won his way.
Lured to Bradford in 1980, he steered its biomedical sciences department from the foot to the top of the official research ratings league table. He was a gifted talent spotter in his own and neighbouring scientific fields. In between examining the testes of mice and the ovaries of Rhesus monkeys, he created beautiful wood carvings, advised numerous overseas ministries and international organisations, refereed theses and promotions at universities in several countries and earned fellowships in many learned societies.
He is survived by his wife Pauline, who is a retired local government officer, and their three sons.
  • Terence George Baker, biologist; born 27 May 1936; died 22 February 2006

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