London bombs to peace in the in­let

Taranaki Daily News - - Obituaries -

Pma­rine bi­ol­o­gist b Oc­to­ber 6, 1935 d Novem­ber 12, 2018

ro­fes­sor John Wells, who has died aged 83, was a re­search sci­en­tist, fam­ily man and com­mu­nity leader. He was a man of his time, sur­viv­ing World War II, pro­gress­ing to a ca­reer that stretched around the world.

He be­came the first full-time dean of sci­ence at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity of Welling­ton, was an in­ter­na­tional author­ity on the bi­ol­ogy of tiny harpacti­coid cope­pod crus­taceans, and made a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to the con­ser­va­tion of the Pau­ata­hanui In­let.

John Berke­ley James Wells was born in 1935 in Ham­mer­smith, west London. His fa­ther and mother ran a small newsagent, sta­tion­ers and to­bac­conist shop, above which they lived.

At the be­gin­ning of World War II, John and sis­ter Joan were evac­u­ated sep­a­rately to vil­lages out­side London. They re­turned home near the end of the war when it was thought to be rel­a­tively safe, only to be bombed out by a V-1 fly­ing bomb (doo­dle­bug) that ex­ploded near their shel­ter, blast­ing the door open, and throw­ing John out of his bunk, while his mother re­ceived mas­sive fa­cial bruis­ing.

His fa­ther was on duty that night as an ARP war­den. The shop and ground floor of their home sur­vived, but the en­tire floor above was blown off into the street. The sin­gle storey that was left was quickly reroofed so the shop could re­open. In the mean­time, they lived with friends across the street.

In 1946, John re­ceived a schol­ar­ship to Latymer Up­per School in Ham­mer­smith, where he be­gan to spe­cialise in sci­ence sub­jects. A keen swim­mer, he be­came cap­tain of the school swimming and wa­ter polo teams. His in­ter­est in swimming led to his meet­ing his fu­ture wife, Margery, at Eal­ing Swimming Club. They mar­ried on Septem­ber 26, 1959.

He stud­ied bi­ol­ogy, chem­istry and physics in the sixth form, while also de­vel­op­ing a pas­sion for clas­si­cal mu­sic and even­tu­ally opera.

John be­gan BSc stud­ies at the Cen­tral Poly­tech­nic in 1955 and grad­u­ated in 1958 with first-class hon­ours in zo­ol­ogy. He be­gan study for a PhD in ma­rine bi­ol­ogy at Ex­eter Univer­sity in 1958.

His first job was as a tem­po­rary as­sis­tant lec­turer in zo­ol­ogy in the fi­nal year of his PhD. From there his ca­reer took him to Birk­beck Col­lege, Univer­sity of London (1961-63) and a sec­ond­ment to Univer­sity Col­lege of Rhode­sia and Nyasa­land in Sal­is­bury.

In 1976, he and his fam­ily em­i­grated to New Zealand, where he was ap­pointed pro­fes­sor of zo­ol­ogy at Vic­to­ria. He also be­came a trustee of the Karori Wildlife Trust (more lat­terly Zealan­dia).

His in­ter­ests out­side his ca­reer were ex­ten­sive. He was a keen golfer and avid home handy­man, and made much of the fur­ni­ture for the fam­ily home. He and Margery were long-time sub­scribers to the New Zealand Sym­phony Or­ches­tra and Cham­ber Mu­sic con­cert series.

But he was never too busy to take his two boys fish­ing, to the li­brary, watch them play sport, and teach or ex­plain to them, with great pa­tience, the work­ings of just about any­thing.

In 1991, Wells be­came the first full­time dean of sci­ence at Vic­to­ria, a po­si­tion he held un­til 1998. Dur­ing that time, he amal­ga­mated the de­part­ments of zo­ol­ogy, botany, and bio­chem­istry into a School of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sciences – a dif­fi­cult process in­volv­ing staff losses and con­sid­er­able stress. His abil­ity to han­dle all the is­sues with tact, fair­ness, de­ci­sive­ness, and vi­sion ul­ti­mately made the amal­ga­ma­tion a suc­cess.

He was known in­ter­na­tion­ally as a pre-emi­nent author­ity on the bi­ol­ogy of harpacti­coid cope­pod crus­taceans, tiny crea­tures that live among sand grains. His 215-page Keys to aid the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of ma­rine harpacti­coids was, and re­mains, a clas­sic ref­er­ence vol­ume. He au­thored about 50 sci­en­tific pa­pers, in­clud­ing five pub­li­ca­tions with close col­league Pro­fes­sor Bruce Coull, of the Univer­sity of South Carolina.

He re­tired from Vic­to­ria in 2001, and do­nated his own col­lec­tion of harpacti­coid cope­pods and re­lated ma­te­ri­als to Te Papa, mak­ing its col­lec­tion one of the best re­search col­lec­tions in the world.

He be­came a trustee of the Pau­ata­hanui In­let Com­mu­nity Trust in 2003, and a found­ing trustee of the Porirua Har­bour and Catch­ment Com­mu­nity Trust in 2012. In each of th­ese roles, he brought a broad sci­en­tific un­der­stand­ing to dis­cus­sions and de­ci­sions, and en­cour­aged new stu­dents to en­gage in un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of look­ing after our es­tu­ar­ies.

He be­came chair­per­son of the Guardians of Pau­ata­hanui In­let from 2004 to 2013. Un­der his lead­er­ship, the guardians have been the ma­jor or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­mot­ing com­mu­nity aware­ness, gath­er­ing data and co-or­di­nat­ing in­volve­ment in the en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion of Pau­ata­hanui In­let.

This work has been par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ated by em­ploy­ees of the Porirua City Coun­cil, and he was recognised in the 2013 Porirua Civic Awards for his out­stand­ing vol­un­tary ser­vice to the Porirua com­mu­nity, guid­ance to mem­bers, and the wider pub­lic.

He was known as po­lite, pa­tient and re­spect­ful, and a real gen­tle­man. When he was ex­cited or happy, he had a twin­kle in his eye and a smile that would light up a con­ver­sa­tion.

Wells, who died of mo­tor neu­ron dis­ease, is sur­vived by his wife, their two sons, and two grand­sons. – By Janet Grieve

Sources: Wells fam­ily, John McKoy, David Bur­ton, Keith Calder, Bruce Coull, Rick Web­ber, Geoff Hicks

Ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist John Wells with wife Margery be­side the Pau­ata­hanui In­let and, left, count­ing cock­les in the in­let in 2010.

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