Professor Michael Black

Emeritus Professor and plant physiologist at Queen Elizabeth College has died following a cancer diagnosis five years ago.

Michael Black (Mike) was born in February 1932 in Manchester, the youngest of three children.

While a pupil at Stand Grammar School, Mike discovered his life-long interest in science, particularly in plant biology. Mike went on to study science at the University of Manchester, from where he graduated with a BSc in 1953, specialising in botany. He stayed there for his research degree and obtained his MSc in 1954 and his PhD in 1957. Mike then took a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, returning to the UK in 1959, where he had a short-term research post at the University of Wales.

It was in 1960 that Mike joined the Department of Biology at Queen Elizabeth College, University of London, based at the Campden Hill site. There he developed his career over the next 40 years, teaching and building up his research group, largely studying seeds and seedlings, rising from the position of Assistant Lecturer to Professor, and eventually becoming Emeritus Professor.

Mike supervised many postgraduate students over the years. Derek Bewley, the first of these students, submitted a draft of his thesis to Mike in handwritten form; this was of course in the days long before photocopiers and computers, so there were no duplicates. After a few days, Mike confessed to Derek: ‘I cannot find your thesis… I think I burnt it!’ Mike always had a great sense of humour, so Derek thought this was one of his jokes; unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and Mike had indeed thrown the thesis on the fire after it had got caught up in the envelopes of exam papers he was marking. Luckily, Derek forgave Mike and was able to rewrite from his notes; they continued to collaborate in research, co-authored and remained life-long close friends.

Mike met the love of his life Marianne (née Tietz) at Queen Elizabeth College when she was working in the nutrition faculty. They married in 1962 and went on to have three children, Pauline, Nicola and Martin. Mike enjoyed music, cinema, theatre, good food and drink, and, of course, gardening.

Within all the many messages of condolence received by his children, several recurring descriptions of Mike emerged: principled, a strong sense of equality, funny and fun, kind and generous, modest, and interested in the world around him and in other people.

Both Mike and Marianne are hugely missed by their children, grandchildren, family and friends. Thank you to Mike’s daughter Nicola for providing us with this obituary.