Professor Geoff Hunter Obituary

by Dr Alistair Murray
photo of Prof Hunter

Professor Geoff Hunter, dean of the faculty of science and engineering, died after a short illness. He was 58 and is survived by his mother, his wife Jacky, and daughter, Gillian.

Born in Durham, he was educated at Stanley Grammar School and the University of Sheffield where he gained a 2:1 honours degree in chemistry. He then completed a Ph.D at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne before spending a year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. After a brief foray as a scientific officer at Amersham Radiochemical Centre, he took up a lectureship in chemistry at the University of Dundee in 1969, moving to senior lecturer and professor. Regarded as being one of the most authoritative chemists in his field of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, with over 150 publications in scientific journals he was invited to Princeton University, New Jersey as visiting fellow (1974, 1984, 1986) and to the University of Victoria, Canada, as visiting professor (1978, 1987). Latterly, Geoff's research interests lay in the use of nuclear magnetic resonance, in all its forms, as a problem-solving tool. This led him to collaborate with practitioners in a wide range of disciplines, from engineers to dentists to entomologists, both within the University and in institutions world wide. The success of this was reflected in invitations to lecture both at home and abroad.

In 1990, Geoff took on the headship of an ailing chemistry department. He made an uncompromising stand against the proposed closure of chemistry, and in those days he was a tremendous encouragement to us all as we started the hard job of rebuilding the department into a viable and well-respected chemistry department. His leadership created an atmosphere of conciliation and reasonableness. He was practical and constructive to work with, and because of his old-style integrity and loyalty to colleagues, he enjoyed the unqualified respect of his peers and he was held in great affection by the staff of the department. He was a person who was always generous in the praise of his colleagues. Consequently, we were happy and fortunate to have him as the head of department for three consecutive terms of office. Despite his high office, he never forgot the students and that they were our life blood. He was devoted to learning, a popular teacher who believed that it was his duty to interest his students in science.

In 1998, Geoff was elected dean of the faculty of science and engineering. He didn't hanker after that position, but he firmly believed that he had a responsibility to ensure that the University remained a liberal community devoted to learning and research. He presided over difficult times with the division of the faculty, something that he thought was a distraction from the need to recruit more students to new courses. He was not afraid to confront the many difficulties which plagued his Deanship, head-on, but when faced with a fait accompli he accepted the fact with good grace. He didn't seek the glory, and I think that one of the things we all liked about Geoff was his modesty and his fair-mindedness.

With Jacky, he entertained generously. Conversation sparkled at their dinner table, much of it about sailing, because outwith the University his real love was his yacht. He was like a little boy at the weekends when he was going off sailing with his friends. Geoff Hunter had so much more to offer. His courage, dignity and devotion to duty during the last weeks of his illness will never be forgotten and right to the end he was still up to the difficult job of making the casting vote at faculty. His end is tragic and we all remember him with great respect and affection.

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