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Jack Heslop-Harrison 1920-1998The biography of Professor Jack Heslop-Harrison has been written by Professor Brian Gunning and includes the Autobiography of the early years of Jack's life completed before he died. This included vivid descriptions of his work with radar and T-force in the war. Individual chapters can be downloaded in PDF format from the chapter headings in the Table of Contents. The PDFs include illustrations. The work is (c) Brian Gunning 2001. The work also includes the biography prepared for the Royal Society Biographical Memoirs of Fellows - 2000. Please e-mail me at PHH4@le.ac.uk if you would like me to send a copy on CD-ROM

 Introduction and Contents - B. Gunning

John (Jack) Heslop Harrison was one of the great plant scientists of the post-WWII era. As large in life as he was in stature, he loved intellectual stimulation of many kinds, at work or at play. Few could keep pace with his drive to utilise every moment to the full. Always a compulsive enthusiast, he was primarily dedicated to research and discovery, but somehow he also found time to be an accomplished artist and cartoonist, music lover, poet, collector, historian, novelist (nearly), photographer, entomologist, a spell-binding raconteur and inspiring orator, a passionate advocate for conservation, and a devoted family man.

After a rapid post-war advance to successive professorships in Britain and the United States he was appointed Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 1970, a post carrying immense prestige and responsibility. With his wide-ranging knowledge of plants and their adaptations, and his clear vision of their role in the well-being of the planet, he saw it as his public duty to harness the centuries of accumulated expertise at Kew and to transform the Gardens into a pre-eminent scientific institution focusing on the absolute imperative to study, nurture and conserve the Plant Kingdom. He could not realise all of his dreams, but in a five year spell he generated a new climate and a momentum that persists to this day.

He then took the remarkable step of backing away from this pinnacle, and the associated sure path to public honours, in favour of the thing he prized above all else: the joys of personal discovery. The rest of his career was extraordinarily productive. He conducted his own flourishing research programme with the aid of a few visitors and the priceless collaboration of his wife, Dr Yolande Heslop-Harrison, first as a Royal Society Research Professor and then, after his “retirement”, in personal laboratories. He and Yolande were still working on a paper for publication, up to a matter of hours before he died, peacefully, on 7th May, 1998.

After his death his wife Yolande and son Pat (Professor John Seymour Heslop-Harrison), and the Royal Society, to which he was elected Fellow in 1970, asked me if I would prepare a biographical memoir, for publication by the Royal Society. I had known him first when I was an undergraduate and he was Professor of Botany at The Queen’s University of Belfast, and I had had the privilege of sharing just some of his many research interests in later life. I knew enough to realise that here was a man of far too many parts to encapsulate in a memoir of standard length, and that a much more extended coverage would be warranted. The idea of building this web site was born in discussions with Yolande and Pat, with the aim of including further information in a format that could be accessed by his many friends and colleagues (who could indeed add their own material to the compilation in the site). Although his scientific work is always to the fore in the various chapters, they do not provide anything approaching a comprehensive review. For those who are interested to delve deeper into his research, his publications are listed and can be consulted. However, Yolande has provided a wonderful precis of various phases and aspects of their life together, which I have made the basis of much that appears here. Also Jack himself had begun to write his memoirs, and he left some documents in various stages of completion in the form of dated disc files and printouts. These are reproduced here with a minimum of editing and the addition of a few footnotes. They are not only wonderfully evocative of his skills as writer and raconteur, but, invaluably, give us his own story of his life up to his first job as a 25 year old in 1945, unleashed from war service and brimming with pent-up enthusiasm, energy and ambition, into an academic world that was ripe for renewal.

Links to the collected documents are listed on the next page. Jack’s own autobiographical writings are identified as such, other documents are by B. Gunning, based very largely on texts provided by Yolande Heslop-Harrison. Her help in compiling and editing the biographical sections has been invaluable, indeed they could not have been produced without her input. I also thank many others who have provided information and recollections, or assisted in other ways either directly to me or via Yolande Heslop-Harrison:- G. Bernier, R. D. C. Black, D. J. Carr, P. Cochrane (Jagoe), L. Evans, G. E. Fogg, E. Heij (Williams), J. S. (Pat) Heslop-Harrison, B. John, D. Mulcahy, E. H. Newcomb, B. Palevitz, J. Pate, Sir Charles Pereira, J. Simmons, M. W. Steer, T. Tinsley, V. Vithanage, N. Wace.