Stan Gregory, 1926-2016

A geographer who radically reformed the discipline has died

May 5, 2016
Obituary: Stan Gregory, 1926-2016

Stan Gregory was born in north London on 28 February 1926 and educated at the Polytechnic Secondary School on Regent Street. 

He acquired his initial knowledge of meteorology while serving in the Navy towards the end of the Second World War. He then obtained a first in geography at King’s College London (1950), followed by an MA (1951) and a PhD (1952) at the University of Liverpool while working as an assistant lecturer.

Remaining at Liverpool until 1968, Professor Gregory was promoted to lecturer, senior lecturer and finally reader. He later moved to the University of Sheffield, where he remained until retirement, as professor of geography (1968-88), serving as dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences (1978-80) and pro vice-chancellor (1980-84) as well as taking visiting posts in Australia, Canada, India, Eastern Europe, Jamaica and a number of African countries.

A leading climatologist, Professor Gregory had a particular interest in the study of rainfall in subtropical and tropical regions and related issues of water resources. Yet he was probably better known as a leader of the “quantitative revolution” in geography.

To influence researchers and universities, he co-founded the Study Group on Quantitative Methods within the Institute of British Geographers. To make a similar impact in schools, he persuaded the Geographical Association to set up a Committee on Models and Quantitative Techniques in Teaching, and he became its first chair. He also promoted the “revolution” though a landmark 1963 textbook.

“Few textbooks have changed the practice of geography,” said Sir Paul Curran, the vice-chancellor of City University London, “but Stan’s Statistical Methods and the Geographer was one of them. I consider myself fortunate to have been taught by Stan as an undergraduate and supported by Stan as a junior colleague. He was an inspiration to me and, of course, his textbook is still on my shelf.”

In a eulogy at Professor Gregory’s funeral, Ron Johnston, former vice-chancellor of the University of Essex, recalled Professor Gregory as “a major agent for change in how geography was practised here in the UK” who was also a highly effective university administrator. His “quiet tact and great patience in negotiations” had proved great assets during a period of student unrest while he was pro vice-chancellor.

A keen and intrepid traveller, Professor Gregory recently celebrated his 90th birthday by visiting the site of the Palace of the Queen of Sheba in Oman. He died after a stroke on 8 April and is survived by his wife Helga, two daughters from an earlier marriage and three grandsons.

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