The death of Alastair Graham last December marked the end of an
era in which the study of functional anatomy and ecology of molluscs
had flourished. Many malacologists are familiar with his contribution,
if not with the man himself, through his publications and editorship
of The Journal of Molluscan Studies. His publications revealed
a keen eye, artistic ability and incisive mind, combined with clarity
of writing. Former students can testify on a personal level to his dedication
and flair as a teacher, which stimulated generations of undergraduates
and spawned a group of enthusiastic research students. His commitment
to his administrative responsibilities within the department and on
the broader front in the university reflected his dedication to duty.
Yet, Graham's introduction to Zoology was incidental to his original
choice of medicine as a career, and his background was in arts rather
than science. He left The Royal High School, Edinburgh in 1924, as dux
of school, with a clutch of medals and prizes in classical languages,
French and mathematics. At his father's behest he first pursued an arts
course modified to cover an introduction to medicine, and was awarded
an MA (Edin.) in 1927. He then changed direction for personal reasons
and in 1929 gained a first class honours degree in Zoology, having added
a further six medals to his collection.
He embarked on research under the direction of Professor Ashworth, with
a project on the morphology, feeding mechanisms, and physiology of digestion
of Ensis. Although Graham had been trained in the traditional
mould of descriptive Zoology it did not satisfy his fertile imagination
and he readily embraced the new developments burgeoning at the time.
He set out to explain how the subjects of his investigations work, and
how their structure limits and defines the ways in which they function
and adapts them to their mode of life. This approach was the essence
of all his research, but circumstances never allowed him to fulfil his
desire to extend further into the realms of experimental physiology.
His studies were interrupted when he was appointed to a lectureship
at Sheffield University in 1929, where he was to meet his first wife,
Gwynneth Hayes, then a student. A major overlap with the research interests
of C.M. Yonge was averted when Graham turned his attention to prosobranch
gastropods, which became the focus of his subsequent work.
After four years in Sheffield Graham was appointed to a Readership at
Birkbeck College, London, where he became Head of Department in 1943
and Professor in 1947. When he arrived Vera Fretter was completing her
undergraduate studies in the department, and under his supervision,
took up a research project on the gut of tectibranchs. She moved to
Royal Holloway in 1936 and returned to Birkbeck in 1945. Soon after,
two joint publications appeared and a third followed in 1954.
Graham succeeded Professor O'Donohue as Head of the Department of Zoology,
University of Reading, in 1952, and Dr Fretter joined him when she was
appointed Reader two years later. Their research collaboration led to
an invitation from the Ray Society to co-author a monograph, British
prosobranch molluscs, which was duly published in 1962 and became
a vade mecum for many working in the field. It contained much
original work, partly carried out on annual visits to Plymouth. The
book was a massive undertaking in itself, but put into the context of
other pressures on Graham at the time it was indeed a remarkable achievement.
The department, set in a time warp and impoverished of equipment had
to be modernised and enlarged, and home life was difficult as his wife's
health declined. Dr Fretter's support and cheerful extrovert nature
did much to ease the burden.
These matters did not distract Graham from his commitment to students.
He had a heavy teaching load, not only lecturing but also demonstrating
in practical classes. He soon knew all his students by name, and QAA
inspectors would have approved of the extent of verbal interaction in
classes! His imaginative flair made his lectures inspiring, and as a
supervisor of postgraduates he had the patience to make the untrained
eye see and the immature mind develop powers of deductive logic. In
the sixties his administrative load increased during the period of university
expansion, when he oversaw the planning of the new building in Whiteknights
and served as Dean of the Faculty and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the latter
for two terms. He retired in 1972, but continued with research and other
zoological activities until 1993.
He was a staunch supporter of the Malacological Society, serving as
its President 1954-57, and Editor of the Proceedings from 1969-85.
This was a chequered period in the history of The Society. When he became
Editor, Graham set about broadening the appeal of the journal, and attracting
a wider variety of papers. However, publication costs were rising, and
by the end of 1974 The Society was in deficit by £4.5k. Blackwell's
abruptly terminated their contract and no other publisher was prepared
to take on the journal. Dr Nisbet, the then President, fought hard to
save the situation. The only chance of survival was to adopt the cheapest
production methods, and for the Editor to subsume the role of sub-editor,
and the Treasurer to take on the agency work for institutional subscribers,
including claims and sale of back-parts. In reality Graharn's efforts
extended beyond his brief and he was much involved in the agency work.
The changes were taken as an opportunity to re-launch the 'economy'
version of the journal with a new title: 'The Journal of Molluscan
Studies'. Graham also introduced a series of supplements nine of
which made up 'The prosobranchs of Britain and Denmark', incorporating
the beautiful drawings of the Danish artist Poul Winther (also used
in Graham's contribution to the Linnean Society new series on the British
fauna). He and Dr Fretter were co-authors, though she was soon preoccupied
with Dr McLean on the limpets of hydrothermal vents. The prosobranch
supplements, published at no cost to The Society, were popular, and
their sale brought in useful revenue. Sadly, the final proofs of the
tenth part (additions and deletions) were misplaced and did not come
to light until 1992. The Society then decided against printing it. By
December 1985 assets of nearly £21k had accrued and the journal
was once more attractive to major publishers. Oxford University Press
took it over with the agency work at the beginning of 1986. Graham passed
on the editorship, restored to its original brief, to the next generation,
and the Treasurer was left with the less onerous task of managing subscriptions
from ~300 members. Graham was free to concentrate on the revision of
the Ray Society monograph, the second edition of which was published
Graham's contribution to his subject was recognised over the years with
the award of a D.Sc. (London) in 1944, the Keith medal of the Royal
Society of Edinburgh in 1951, the Gold medal of the Linnean Society
of London in 1968, and the Frink medal of the Zoological Society of
London in 1975. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1979.
Graham was a sensitive, unassuming and private man, ill at ease in large
gatherings and social events, but on an individual basis his shyness
was overcome, revealing an underlying warmth, compassion, and sense
of humour. His humility was such that he saw his positions of responsibility
as opportunities to serve rather than wield authority over others. He
showed sound judgement based on logic and careful consideration. It
was all the more difficult for a man of his temperament to witness the
prolonged illness of his first wife and its effect on his two sons.
His fortitude was yet again demonstrated when, as a result of a misdiagnosis
in 1993 his sight was almost destroyed.
He enjoyed simple pleasures: walking, gardening and classical music.
He appreciated art: his own artistic talent is obvious to all familiar
with his publications. Dr Fretter contributed the 'whole animal' drawings
in the Ray Society publications, most of the others were his. He never
complained when his other passions, reading and playing his beloved
piano were no longer possible. He derived much pleasure from the companionship
of his little dog, and through his second wife Beth still took a vicarious
interest in matters zoological. He bore his final illness with characteristic
spirit. The scientist will be celebrated in the legacy of his work;
the man will be mourned by the few who really knew him.
Andrews, Royal Holloway
University of London
Drawing by Alastair Graham, originally in
Trans R. Soc. Edin. Vol. 57, p. 301, reproduced as an example
of cytological detail represented entirely by dots in H. Graham Cannons
A Method of Illustration for Zoological Papers (1936, Association
of British Zoologists).