Obituary: Dr Geoff Hadley MBE, botanist and politician

Dr Geoff Hadley MBE''. Picture: Contributed
Dr Geoff Hadley MBE''. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 7 February, 1932, at Weston Coyney, Staffordshire. Died: 9 August, 2014, in Aberdeen, aged 82

Dr Geoff Hadley was the academic and mycological expert whose unplanned entry into North East of Scotland politics came about through a controversial local decision in 1972 to demolish a large house in an affluent Aberdeen suburb to make way for a Stakis hotel.

In spite of vocal local protest in Cults, planning permission was granted. With no political experience at all, Dr Hadley was asked to stand by his local community in 1973 – the last Aberdeen County Council election before regionalisation in 1975. As an Independent, he polled 2,202 votes, ousting sitting councillor David Hanna by 600 votes. Ironically, within a decade, the Royal Darroch Hotel exploded in a serious gas accident, with tragic loss of life.

Geoff’s civic elevation caused little congratulation within his family. His father Isaac took “a dim view” of it, calling his son “a daft b****r for becoming involved in such activity”.

But Geoff relished his new-found role, and in 1974 won Cults & Culter on the newly created Grampian Regional Council. He retained the seat throughout a 21-year political career – and until his death, had been one of Scotland’s dwindling band of one-time county councillors.

At the 1986 regional council elections, nationwide unpopularity of Conservatives caused drubbings throughout Scotland, and Grampian Tories all but disappeared to an alliance of Liberals, SNP and Independents, with the Labour group under leader Bob Middleton in opposition. With equal suddenness, Hadley, an experienced councillor, found himself pitchforked into the top job of regional convenor.

Opposition parties swiftly nicknamed this rainbow alliance “the all-sorts” and “dolly mixtures”. But Dr Hadley played a deft hand in his new mix’n’match arrangement, and looking back years later, confessed to “an entertaining time as chairman keeping the whole show in order”.

Bearded and often bow-tied, his preferred method of travel was by bike, and he became a familiar figure arriving for council meetings on two wheels – a situation not lost on the comedy trio Scotland The What?, who featured him in one show as “the mannie on the bike with the beard.”

In his memoirs Reminiscences of a Staffordshire Lad published some years ago, he reflected: “I enjoyed my years as convener and can only hope that historians will agree that during my four years, Grampian did indeed go places” – a reference to the Grampian’s Going Places promotional campaign launched to counter a then downturn in North Sea activity in the late 1980s.

Re-elected in 1990, Dr Hadley returned to the back benches under a Labour-LibDem administration, retiring at the 1994 elections. He opposed the Conservative dismantling of regions in 1996 in favour of single-tier local government, commenting that the change was “more political than politic”.

Some years later, he confessed to “a wry feeling to see banners expounding the concept of promoting ‘Aberdeen City and Shire’. It seems we have come full circle [in] political discussion in merging the two councils of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire.”

Geoffrey Hadley was born in the Stoke-on-Trent suburb of Weston Coyney on his mother’s 35th birthday, and her mother’s 70th. Only son of his miner father Isaac, Geoff inherited from him a lifelong passion for cricket. Hadley pere was captain and president of the local Caverswall Cricket Club.

Geoff also played for Caverswall but his sporting career was interrupted by student days. He returned to the crease again in 1985 when at 53, he turned out for five years for Banchory Cricket Club in Kincardineshire.

He graduated from the University of Birmingham, taking a doctorate at Nottingham University. Interested in fungi, he took a botanical appointment at Glasgow University before being made lecturer in mycology at Aberdeen University two years later.

His interest was in mycorrhiza, the phenomenon providing fungus with constant access to carbohydrates, with his speciality being application to orchids, particularly the difficulty in getting seed to germinate.

His links with Malaysia provided an opportunity to extend his work by using wild tropical orchids, and he spent an academic session in 1966 in Kuala Lumpur lecturing on isolation work with microfungi.

His promotion of mycology helped develop subject as an applied science within medical mycology. The work undertaken at the Institute of Medical Sciences in Aberdeen has led to product development in areas such as candida and other fungal-based medical conditions. For his work with the British Mycological Society he was appointed MBE in 1999.

Dr Hadley’s wealth of public service in his adopted home city included promoting healthy living as chairman of Grampian Heart Campaign, leading Grampian-Houston Association; chairing Aberdeen Civic Society; and being on the management board of Hanover Scotland Housing Association. In leisure time, he made wine from a variety of fungal vegetation, brewed beer, and loved classical music and DIY.

He never ceased to fight the Parkinson’s Lewy Body Dementia with which he was diagnosed in 2006, and is survived by his third wife Margaret, and Elizabeth his first wife, mother of his three daughters Caroline, Wendy and Sarah.

GORDON CASELY