Professor Peter English


VISITING Peter and Anne English in their new place of retirement perched above Loch Ness one immediately met with the customary banter, teasing and enormous warmth of hospitality. One was struck by the beauty of the place and how the splendid new house was already organically related to the old farmstead; Peter's lifelong preoccupation was that all virtue was connected to the past.

Also unsurprising was the fact that no concession had been made to age; the planting and landscaping that had taken place seemed the work of not one man but a small army. Even more revealing of Peter's nature than this phenomenal energy was his relationship to his frequently visiting grandchildren. Like his own children, his nieces and nephews and hordes of small visitors, the grandchildren delighted in being outside with him and caught up in his ever- inventive ploys. If they were occasionally ill, this most manly of men was extraordinarily patient and comforting towards them.

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This combination of physical and intellectual energy and uncondescending charity towards other people created in Peter a sustained excellence in so many disparate fields. Family man, farmer, innovative researcher in animal husbandry, educator, athlete, social historian and community activist were not only completely, but often simultaneously, fulfilled roles.

He was always a man of ancestral verities, even pieties. As a teenager his initial impulse was to stay rooted on the land. Aberdeen University, because of his outstanding intellectual qualities, had to coerce him into an academic post. The university was rewarded with 42 years of service in research and teaching.

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The boy whose sole ambition was to work locally in practical agriculture became, because of his expertise, a constant global traveller, his principal book on animal husbandry so valued that it was translated into 23 languages.

He was awarded The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/British Society of Animal Science Award for Innovative Developments in Animal Welfare. He also received the prestigious David Black Award in 1984. He spent nine years on the Farm Animal Welfare Council advising the UK government.

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It was, however, as a teacher on his hugely successful MSc programme for international students that Peter excelled. It was intellectually stimulating and pragmatically related to their real needs. Peter also took extraordinary pastoral care of them. This extended to the now legendary Highland Games he held for his students at Ardachy. Such extraordinary feats of hospitality and, indeed, so many other aspects of his life, would have been impossible without his wife, Anne. Rightly believing herself "married not to a man but a force of nature", she was his intellectual equal and almost always able to impose a comic sense of proportion on his occasionally excessive tendencies.

His athletic career was equally exemplary. Good at all sports (his father played football for Fulham, his grandfather in the embryonic games of Camanachd) he excelled at shinty. He was captain of the Glenurquhart team, shinty Blue and captain of Aberdeen University and founder member and captain of Aberdeen Camanachd. He initiated and edited from 1971-76 the still successful Shinty Yearbook. He was for ten years vice-president of the Camanachd Association. At the time of his death he was coaching local schoolboys.

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Writing a history of Glenurquhart shinty team led him to a much larger work, Arnisdale and Loch Hourn… The Clachans, People, Memories and the Future (2000). Never one to stop at mere words, Peter, along with the local committee, used the profits of the book to seek lottery and other funding. This consummated a lifetime of getting people, often against their better judgment, to co-operate for the general good, with the erection of a marvellous ceilidh house in Arnisdale.

Our thoughts go out to his wife and his children. It may be a consolation that the pain of his loss is so widely shared. From his mother he inherited a sense of a Burnsian dignity regarding his fellow humans. The last words are rightly the Bard's:

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If there's another world he lives in bliss,

If there be none he made the best of this.

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• An obituary of Professor Peter English appeared in The Scotsman on 14 January.