Professor Sally Macgill

Environmental social scientist
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The Independent Online

Sarah Margaret Kellett, geographer, environmental scientist and university administrator: born Gravesend, Kent 9 October 1951; Research Fellow, Department of Geography, Leeds University 1976-77, Lecturer in Geography 1977-89, Senior Lecturer 1989-91, Director of Planning and Policy Development, Central Administration 1991-95, Principal Research Scientist, Leeds Environment Centre (later School of the Environment) 1995-2003, Director, Sustainability Research Institute 2000-05, Dean for Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Earth and Environment 1997-2002, Professor of Integrated Environmental Management 2002-05; married 1973 Andrew Macgill (one daughter, and one daughter missing, presumed dead; marriage dissolved 1997); missing, presumed dead Krabi, Thailand 26 December 2004.

Sally Macgill was a significant figure at Leeds University, making contributions in research, teaching, administration and academic management. She also achieved international distinction in geographical and environmental research and was an innovator in teaching, particularly in the development of e-learning. Over a 30-year career, she served her university as Research Fellow, Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Director of Planning, Professor and Dean.

She was born Sarah Kellett in 1951, but known as Sally from childhood. At Whalley Range High School in Manchester, she made her mark academically and in other areas; she was the leader of the school orchestra and represented the city in swimming and athletics. Popular with her contemporaries, she was elected school prefect and house captain. She came to Leeds as an undergraduate in 1970, graduating with a first class degree in Mathematics and Economics in 1973.

Sally Macgill (now married to Andrew Macgill) then joined the Geography Department as a research student as it was developing its distinctive role in building mathematical and computer models of cities and regions. Her role was to incorporate energy flows into the models - a task that involved integrating two quite distinct approaches: spatial interaction and input-output modelling. She brought her considerable mathematical ability to this task and published her first paper while still a research student in 1974.

A sequence of distinguished papers followed in the 1970s and 1980s, which included some innovative methodological innovations that were relevant to the wider urban and regional modelling field. She also made effective contributions to the particularly difficult territory of q-analysis in urban modelling.

From the mid-1980s, she developed a wholly new field around the development of risk analysis in environmental studies. Her contributions, as ever, were distinctive in a number of areas. There had been enormous controversy about cancer clusters near nuclear power stations and her book on Sellafield, The Politics of Anxiety (1987), is well known - one reviewer described it as social science at its best. She also made significant contributions in pollution studies. Most recently, she again showed her inventiveness - her ability to draw together disparate ideas - by using the idea of the periodic table in Chemistry to provide a new framework for risk analysis.

In 1991, her career took a different turn when she became Director of Planning and Policy Development in the Central Administration of Leeds University. This move had its roots a couple of years earlier when the university sought to develop a devolved budget system - what became the resource centre system. The development programme was threatening to take years because of a lack of appropriate software. Macgill was seconded from Geography to apply her computer modelling skills to solve this problem. This she did, and went on to support the university's planning activities in a senior role. This all involved another kind of research - solving a difficult problem - as well as directly contributing to administration and management.

She resumed her career as an academic in 1995, with an appointment in the School of the Environment. Her research continued to develop in Environmental Risk Management and her research group grew into the Sustainability Research Institute, based on a distinctive mix of science and science methodologies. As Director of the institute, she was able to support many young researchers in environmental social science.

Now, too, she took a highly innovative approach to teaching and became one of the leaders in the development of e-learning. She was awarded a European prize in 2000 for the development of a multi-media CD. She became an academic leader, through her own example, both in research and in teaching. This was recognised in her appointment in 2002 as Professor of Integrated Environmental Management.

She held a variety of offices within Leeds University, latterly as Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Earth and Environment from 1997 to 2002. She chaired a number of groups on academic and welfare issues on behalf of both staff and student communities.

Macgill was a highly gifted musician, playing in orchestras in her student days, and was a member of Leeds Sinfonia. A great source of pride and joy were her daughters, Edith and Alice; as her brother has indicated, "the nicest part of her life was being with her girls". Macgill was one of the victims of the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand, as was her younger daughter, Alice; Edith survived.

Alan Wilson