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Obituary for David Hall, from The Independent, 30 Aug 1999

Larry Orr larry.orr at asu.edu
Tue Sep 14 16:24:05 EST 1999

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The Independent, Monday Review, 30th August 1999

Professor David Hall

DAVID HALL was professor of biology at King's College London for 25
years.  His professional interests spanned plant physiology,
agriculture, forestry climate change and environmental policy. His
favourite research topic was bioenergy - energy released from plant
material - a field where he was a pioneer, emphasising that this was
one of the most widely available forms of energy and yet one of the
least exploited or even recognised.

He could wax lyrical about the productivity of eucalyptus plantations
in Brazil, the scope for agroforestry in arid areas of Kenya, and the
climate role of carbon pools in the ricelands of India. He started up a
journal, Biomass, that has become the pre-eminent publication in the
field. He pressed the claims of bioenergy through projects under the
United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, the European
Commission and the Rockefeller Foundation among many other agencies.

After early life in South Africa, where he was born in 1935, David Hall
spent several years at the University of California before establishing
his main career at King's College London. He was a leading contributor
to two working groups of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
he became Treasurer of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the
Environment, and he was Director of the International Solar Energy
Society. He was in demand as a visiting professor at universities such
as Princeton, Natal and the University of California.

As humanity grapples with one of the biggest transitions in its
history, away from fossil fuels and towards clean and renewable energy,
biomass (plant material) will surely come to take its place as a
prominent source of energy, especially in the tropics. Hall's work will
then be acknowledged as a pioneering endeavour with major import for
all our energy futures, and he will be accorded the acclaim that he
deserved during his lifetime. He has left us at the height of his
professional powers, but fortunately with a bequest that should
eventually enhance the lives of communities far and wide.

Hall was a strenuous advocate of innovative agriculture. He was
convinced the world could feed all its people provided that
agricultural science was given its head with stepped-up support
(research funding has been declining), and provided that governments
pulled the right policy levers.  Such was his confidence in the
capacity of science to deliver that he believed we could squeeze
through the bottlenecks ahead if only we got to grips with the
challenges in their full scope.

I first met Professor David Hall at a scientific conference in
Thessalonika, Greece. Professor indeed. He was one of the protagonists
at the conference, and I admired his professionalism on all manner of
topics.  But I said my first extended hello to him on the beach near-by
the conference locale, where he was friendliness itself. I was struck
that this new acquaintance could be erudite and affable in equal

 From then on he was the best of colleagues and the finest of friends,
generous of spirit and optimistic by nature. I met him at conference
after conference, at his laboratory in King's College, at London
theatres and in an Oxford punt. On whatever occasion, he was ready to
share his research findings, to discuss his latest activities, and to
swap ideas on issues of all sorts. He would drive to Twickenham stadium
in one of the ramshackle cars for which he was renowned, holding forth
on the phytochemistry of sugar-cane while pondering whether he should
cheer for the Springboks or the Brits.

During his final months of illness he flew off to Paris, Budapest,
Washington and Tokyo in order to confer with colleagues and to oversee
his many field projects. He spent part of his very last day on support
work for several of his PhD students. In this, as throughout his life,
his prime motivation was - baldly stated - to make his full
contribution to shaping a world fit for those who come after.


David Oakley Hall, biologist: born East London, South Africa
14 November 1935; Fellow, John Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore
1963-64; Lecturer in Biology, King's College London 1964 68, Reader
1968-74, Professor 1974-99; married 1981 Peta Smith (two daughters);
died London 22 August 1999.

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