This message is being sent at the
request of Dr Marian Mackenzie-Ross
The Guardian, Friday 3rd September 1999
Obituary, David Hall
A tireless advocate for plants as an energy source
David Hall, who has died aged 63, was an unstoppable advocate of plants
as an energy source, and a scientist with a consuming enthusiasm for
his subject. Through an encyclopaedic memory and astonishingly diverse
list of contacts in science, technology and policy, Hall, professor of
biology at King's College, London, contributed to issues of bio-energy,
global change, energy and environmental policy, and plant physiology.
He had an outstanding ability to see the big picture, the connections
between science, technology and policy, as recognised by his service to
the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change and other international
scientific committees. He embraced international collaborative projects
long before current environmental concerns made such cooperation
fashionable. In his own research, and with his academic partners in
developing countries, he carried a torch.
Hall will be especially missed in Africa, for his devotion to
scientific training and sustainable rural development. He was convinced
that parts of the developing world will one day become major exporters
of bio-energy: his tireless campaigning put biomass (plant material) on
the map of world energy resources, and clean modern bio-energy in the
spectrum of responses to global change. In the last quarter of a
century he visited almost half the world's nations communicating his
Hall was born in East London, South Africa, and educated at Kearsney
College and at Natal University. His research career started at the
University of California at Berkeley, where he took his PhD studying
the physiology of photosynthesis. After a year at Johns Hopkins in
Baltimore he joined KCL in 1964 as a lecturer. Those were the golden
years of unfettered expansion of the British university system, and
Hall thrived, earning promotion to professor of biology in 1974.
He was my PhD supervisor, mentor, colleague, friend and source of much
inspiration. I met him first in 1981, to see if I was really interested
in a career in scientific research. He was already a senior figure in
several scientific associations, a government and United Nations
advisor, liaising with the Solar Energy Society and other
non-governmental organisations, and co-author (with Krishna Rao) of a
best-selling paperback, Photosynthesis.
He sat in front of a stack of re-used envelopes on the windowsill, and
scribbled furiously in his ubiquitous spiral-bound journalist's
notepad. We talked about Morris Minors and MGs - but biological fuels
and plant physiology must have figured, for I joined his research group
in 1983, and stayed until 1996.
His taste in cars spoke volumes about his approachability, lack of
pretension and humanity. Apart from cycling into the lab from Pimlico -
only on sunny Saturdays - his preferred everyday transport was a
trusty, rusty ex-Post Office van, and more recently a Morris Traveller
- always with a current copy of the Economist on the floor or the
passenger seat to read in jams.
That he survived illness for so long - and continued working - is a
testimony to his iron will and constitution. During 13 years working
together, mostly for the UN environment programme, I travelled widely
with him and marvelled at his ability to declare the most ordinary meal
in the most basic overseas hotel "delicious", surviving happily when
all around succumbed to various gastric distresses.
His London house was a place of welcome, and his holiday home in Spain
was always available to his friends and research students. Funds for
field work and maintenance were rarely denied, and his associates were
given a liberal degree of autonomy, and responsibility.
Hall struck the right balance between a compelling scientific work
ethic and a more general interest in culture and current affairs. For
me, as for others, he was that one person who altered the way I thought
and felt about life.
Engagingly unmaterialistic yet sophisticated, he was a kind of
universal world Renaissance man. From recycling office paper to the way
I make notes, I owe him a great deal.
He is survived by his wife, Peta, and two daughters.
David Oakley Hall, scientist, born November 14, 1935; died
August 22, 1999