Dr Humphrey Graham Smith
1945 - 2012
It is with great sadness that we must pass on news that our dear friend and partner in Mabley Farm, Dr. Humphrey Smith has died of cancer after a short illness on 3 July 2012.
His funeral was held at Kingsbury Church, overlooking Kingsbury Water Park, close to his home in Warwickshire. The church was full to overflowing with his many friends from home and abroad. Afterward all spoke of his gentle, kind and generous nature, his keen wit and passion for life.
Donations from the funeral will be used by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to fund a conservation project in memory of Humphrey and his contribution to nature conservation in the county. He had developed a close association with the trust over many years, serving on the Council and also as Chair of the Conservation Committee. He took a keen interest in the management of nature reserves around the county and was Secretary for Alvecote Pools Reserve Committee. It was whilst working at the trust around 20 years ago that we first met Humphrey.
Humphrey grew up in Bolton. Anold school friend from Bolton Grammar School spoke at the funeral, remembering an academically gifted but mischievous lad, usually top of the class, gaining six A-levels.
He was also musically talented with surprisingly adult tastes, composing on the piano in the style of his favourite composer, Handel. Music stayed important to Humphrey throughout his life. He loved attending festivals and was just as likely to be found listening to Hawkwind as Mozart. He also sang in local choirs and played organ for several of his local churches.
Humphrey began his academic career gaining a first degree (BSc Honours) in Ecology from the University of Edinburgh in 1967. This was followed by an MSc from Aberdeen in 1968 and a PhD awarded by Edinburgh in 1973. His thesis was based on work done whilst employed as a microbiologist by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) from 1968 to 1974.
Humphrey’s Antarctic work focused on the ecology and biogeography of the terrestrial protozoa (microscopic single-celled animals). He spent a considerable time doing field work in the Antarctic during his PhD studies especially on Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands. Some of his Signy colleagues recollected that he brought much amusement and hilarity to those accompanying him on his various visits. He was a very competent microzoologist and often to be found peering down his beloved microscope at his little beasties which he referred to as ‘testate animalcules’ in his best pompous and profound-sounding voice. Whilst in his laboratory he encouraged others to join him in his love of oratorio by writing the words (in latin) on the laboratory fridge door so all could join in with his choral tastes when the mood took them. He loved penguins and sent many photos back home to his family of the different species he encountered in the Antarctic.
From 1974 he spent the rest of his career at the University of Coventry (formerly Lanchester College) as senior lecturer in ecology. During this time he supervised approximately 15 PhD and MPhil students. A close friend and colleague from the university spoke movingly at the funeral of his reputation as a charismatic and somewhat eccentric lecturer who always had a lot of time for his students. He continued his association with the university as an Honorary Research Fellow after his early retirement in 2002, producing a series of papers in the final decade of his life, mainly on protozoan biogeography. Fifteen years ago a new species of Antarctic testate amoeba (protozoans that live within tiny shells from which they emerge to feed and move) from Spitsbergan was named Schoenbornia smithi in Humphrey’s honour. The authors cited “this species is named after Dr Humphrey G. Smith, the main contributor to our knowledge of testate amoebae in the Antarctic”.
Humphrey had around 40 years of experience teaching, research and professional practice in silviculture and woodland conservation and was particularly interested in management that delivered sustainable commercial yields, whilst conserving biodiversity. He was one of the founder Friends of Brandon Wood, a community woodland on the outskirts of Coventry.
He was a loyal friend to many. He was also the catalyst for many amazing projects in this country and abroad, helping wildlife but also changing many peoples lives for the better, not just ours. It was his initial purchase of woodland in Herefordshire in 1998 (following an inheritance) that allowed the Mabley Farm project to grow and we eventually went on to purchase further land together for nature conservation. Humphrey was thrilled when, in 2011, the farm won the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Farming Award for its contribution to biodiversity and landscape enhancement and was featured on BBC Countryfile.
Mark spoke at the funeral about Mabley Farm and some of the plans we had made together for the future. Humphrey would visit us on the farm whenever he had the time, sometimes bringing friends from around the country or students from Coventry University for a tour of the farm. One of his last visits was to meet up with Dr Oliver Rackham, author of ‘The History of the Countryside’ to look at the flora, fauna and current management of Mabley and Siege Woods. Although officially “retired” he was still carrying out research, usually with several projects on the go, as well as lecturing part-time at the university right up until shortly before he died.
Even though he led an extremely busy life he always made time for people. He took a keen interest in what was happening on the farm and though we could go for quite long periods without seeing him he would be the first person we would phone if a calf was born and he liked to give us the latest weather reports at haymaking time.
His lifetimes work for nature conservation has left behind a wonderful legacy, but life on the farm will never be the same without our dear friend Humphrey and we miss him terribly.
Mark and Liz