Alan Gilbert, 1944-2010

August 5, 2010

The inaugural president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester has died.

Born in Brisbane, Australia, on 11 September 1944, Alan Gilbert studied history at the Australian National University. Graduating in 1967, he married the same year and moved to the University of Oxford to study for a DPhil in modern history. During this time, his daughters were born.

He returned to Australia to lecture at the University of New South Wales, later becoming pro vice-chancellor.

Professor Gilbert specialised in British and Australian history, with a particular interest in the secularisation of modern Western culture. In 1991 he became vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Tasmania, moving five years later to become head of the University of Melbourne. His service to Australian higher education was recognised in 2003 with an Australian Centenary Medal and in 2008, when he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia.

In 2004, Professor Gilbert was named the first president and vice-chancellor of Manchester, created by the merger of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist) and Victoria University of Manchester.

Rod Coombs, vice-president for research and innovation at Manchester, worked with Professor Gilbert throughout his tenure, and paid tribute to "an outstanding individual" who was respected by the entire university community.

"In any career, you meet two or three people who stand out as being exceptionally able in one way or another," Professor Coombs said. "Alan was certainly one of the most exceptional people I've ever met."

Dame Nancy Rothwell, who succeeded Professor Gilbert as president and vice-chancellor in June, said he had been "a remarkable friend and mentor" who possessed "incredible insight, integrity and intelligence". He would be remembered as "a distinguished academic, a transformational leader, a highly effective defender of the value and importance of universities, a passionate supporter of students, and with great affection", she said.

While Professor Gilbert could be "necessarily tough" in meetings, Professor Coombs said he was an excellent mentor. "In private, giving me advice and encouragement and talking to me about my role and career, you couldn't ask for a better guy."

Professor Gilbert was always "utterly determined to make a difference", he continued. "Even if he couldn't get to work, he would always be on the phone, on email, making sure he understood what was going on, what we were doing and suggesting what should be done. He showed terrific dedication and commitment to what he was doing."

Professor Gilbert is survived by his wife, Ingrid, two daughters and three grandchildren.

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