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The University of Southampton

Professor Ken Gregory obituary

Published: 26 November 2020
Professor Ken Gregory
Professor Ken Gregory CBE BSc, PhD, DSc, DSc (Hon), DUniv, C.Geog, FRGS, FGCL, FBSG

It is with great sadness that we inform staff and students of the passing of Ken Gregory, a former Professor of Physical Geography in the School of Geography and Environmental Science.

Ken passed away on 23rd November, at the age of 82. Ken was a Professor of Physical Geography at Southampton, and also served as Head of School, Dean of Science and Deputy Vice-Chancellor in his time at the University. He retained close links with the University after moving to the position of Warden of Goldsmiths in 1992, and has had the Gregory lecture series, which has run since 1993 within the School of Geography and Environmental Science, named after him.

Ken gained his PhD in Physical Geography from University College London in 1962, for a thesis on the geomorphology of the North York Moors, and was appointed that year as a Lecturer in Geography at the University of Exeter (1962-1972) and later as Reader (1972-1976). Whilst at Exeter he completely revitalised studies of the geomorphology of SW England from Dartmoor to the Exe Valley. He also started his long list of postgraduates, many of which have gone on to be leading geomorphologists and influential scientists in their own right. His career at Southampton started in 1976 as the first professor of Physical Geography, going on to be Head of Department (1978-83), Dean of Science (1984-1987) and Deputy Vice Chancellor (1988-1992). He was appointed Warden of Goldsmiths University of London in 1992 and retired in 1998.

Ken was a leading scientist in the new quantitative geomorphology from the mid-1960s onwards. His book Drainage Basin Form and Process: A Geomorphological Approach (Wiley, 1973) co-written with one of this first students, Des Walling (Exeter University), was, and in many ways remains, the standard text on catchment geomorphology; habitually referred to as ‘Gregory and Walling’. It was a key volume in the transformation of British geomorphology from a descriptive study of landforms to a modern, quantitative, science. Whilst at Southampton he virtually invented ‘palaeohydrology’ as a sub-discipline in Europe.

Ken had an international perspective and was President of the International Quaternary Union (INQUA) Commission on Global Continental Palaeohydrology (1979-1989). Through this project he developed strong geomorphological links with the then USSR, Poland, Scandinavia, and the USA. Ken was also instrumental in the development of remote sensing within the academic discipline of Geography having started using Landsat in the late 1970s he realised that satellite remote sensing was a growth area and particularly important for the future of Geography at Southampton. He was also intimately involved with British Geomorphology through the British Geomorphological Research Group (BGRG) founded in 1960 (later serving with distinction as the President of the British Society for Geomorphology from 2008-2014, from which the BGRG had evolved) and the development of strong publishing links including establishing its own journal in 1977 (Earth Surface Processes). He was Chair of the organising committee for the 30th International Geographical Congress in Glasgow in 2004, Chair of the Final Assessors for Chartered Geographer (2004-2014), and Deputy Chair of Governors at Southampton Solent University (1999-2007) and of Council at Brunel University (2010-2018).

Ken was appointed CBE in 2007 for services to geography and higher education, has honorary degrees from the Universities of Southampton, Birmingham, Greenwich and Southampton Solent University, is a Fellow of University College London and of Goldsmiths University of London and received the Founders Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1993 and was granted an Honorary Fellowship in 2015.

Geomorphology to Ken was both an academic discipline and an applied science. His interests were wide including hydrology, slope processes, river channels, biogeomorphology, floods and more unusually the philosophy and history of the discipline about which he wrote extensively. He devoted much of his time to promoting geomorphology in areas of engineering and environmental policy, by for example editing The Fluvial Geomorphology of Great Britain for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee Geological Conservation Review Series (Springer, 1997). That geomorphology, and especially fluvial geomorphology, grew in stature in the 1970s-1990s was in large part due to Ken Gregory. He was still writing into his 80s with his last book being The Basics of Geomorphology (Sage, 2014) jointly written with John Lewin, with whom he has written several papers the last one being published only last year and another submitted just weeks before his death.

Ken was not only remarkably influential in his academic field but he was also a research-driven administrator and educator. He believed that a role he could fulfil was to represent and promote geomorphology worldwide and including outside academia. This he did with great success from Australia (where he spent a sabbatical) to Scandinavia. All who have been either postgraduates of his (exact number to be determined!) and his colleagues will remember him as remarkably engaged, tolerant, direct and above all supportive of others research and work. All who knew him admired and/or envied his remarkable energy, enthusiasm and efficiency, which never ceased.


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