OBITUARY: Gus Caesar

As our universities gird themselves for the Government's fourth research assessment, it is fitting to recall that academic contributions can come in diverse ways. With the death of the geographer Gus Caesar, at the age of 80, Cambridge University has lost one of its great post- war tutors and someone whose indirect effect on research in his field was huge.

Born Alfred Augustus Levi Caesar, son of Julius Caesar, he was termed Gus from his Southampton schooldays. Apart from a brief spell at Newcastle University before the Second World War and wartime service with the Admiralty, he had a quintessentially Cambridge career. He came up on a pounds 20 Exhibition to St Catharine's College in 1933, gained double Firsts in Geography and was elected to a postgraduate scholarship in 1936. After the war he returned to a university lectureship and fellowship at Selwyn College and in 1951 moved back to his old college. For the next 30 years he was to hold almost every senior college post except that of Master.

For a Higher Education Funding Council review, Caesar's reputation would be an enigma. He wrote relatively little, held few awards, and occupied only one visiting position overseas (a professorship at Minnesota). Yet his standing and his influence within academic geography were immense.

The secret lay not in his Cambridge lectures on economic geography, on British regional planning, or on the Soviet reorganisation of Eastern Europe, although these were models of clarity and precision. The key lay in his tutorials (or to use the Cambridge term, supervisions). No one who experienced the hour-long inquisitions in his rooms on Main Court at St Catharine's, delivered through a haze of Three Nuns pipe smoke, will forget the process. Essays were disassembled, the reasonable parts retained, new components added, and the whole reassembled into something that was well ordered, logical and, above all, geographically sound. He had an innate sense of what gave coherence to a geographical point of view and drove that relentlessly into those he taught.

St Catharine's was an ideal arena within which to exercise Caesar's talents. With St John's, it had pioneered Open Scholarships in Geography and the growth of the subject in the post-war years brought with it a stream of the most talented youngsters in their cohort. So much so that St Catharine's under Caesar's tutelage dominated the First Class lists in that Tripos in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result Caesar had a hand in the careers of literally scores of young men (and through his supervision of Newnham and Girton geographers, young women) who were to go on to lead the subject in many British and Commonwealth universities.

Dubbed irreverently "Caesar's Praetorian Guard", they came together in 1970 to write a festschrift volume - Spatial Policy Problems in the British Economy.

If Caesar had been a more ambitious or a more selfish man, he would have had a sheaf of publications to his name, but paradoxically his contribution would be less. He chose to work through others, and the shelf of volumes written by his students and the debt which they confess in prefaces to his encouragement and critical eye are a tribute to a Cambridge system more intricate and more sensitive than any accountancy-based evaluation is ever likely to catch.

All this was heightened by his own personality. With growling voice and the massive bulk of a second-row forward, Gus Caesar appeared ferocious. And as a Dean on the warpath after a rowdy boat-club supper, this image could stand him in good stead. But the reality was of a gentle and ever kindly man for whom the individual undergraduate (particularly if from St Catharine's) could always ask for support. His college house on Grantchester Meadows was a haven through which hundreds of visitors passed each year. His wife, Margaret, and daughter, Pat, could calculate to a nicety the strength of undergraduate appetites after the towpath walk back from Grantchester.

Retirement brought crippling ill-health and, particularly after his wife's death, his spirit flagged. But there were often flashes of the old humour and occasionally one of the stories which had made him one of the most sought after-dinner speakers in Cambridge.

Gus Caesar had a vision of a college in which meticulous tutorial support at the undergraduate stage would bring, in due season, its own rich harvest of graduate research and post-doctoral scholarship. It was a measured and long-term view of life of which even his illustrious Roman namesake might well have approved.

Alfred Augustus Levi Caesar, geographer: born Southampton 22 November 1914; University Lecturer in Geography, Cambridge University 1948-80; Fellow, Selwyn College, Cambridge 1948-51; Fellow, St Catharine's College, Cambridge 1951-80 (Emeritus), Dean 1955-59 , Tutor 1959-67, Senior Tutor 1967-77, President 1978-80; married 1940 Margaret Clark (died 1990; one son, one daughter); died Cambridge 9 September 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor