Roger Hilton: Mycologist and rubber researcher

Lives remembered

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The Independent Online

Roger Hilton, who died on 20 June 2012 in Perth, Western Australia, was a rubber researcher who became a lecturer in mycology. He was born in Harborne, Birmingham on 1 June 1927. Educated at Solihull Grammar School Warwickshire, he read Natural Sciences at Clare College Cambridge, (1945-1948). His tendency to asceticism came easily in a 1940s Cambridge college, with its near-monastic ethos, plus the rationing of even bread, potatoes and coal.

Upon graduation he was appointed Plant Pathologist to the Rubber Research Institute of Malaya. He made a major contribution to the control of disease in rubber plantations in Malaya with his seminal Maladies of Hevea in Malaya (Rubber Research Institute, 1959), for which he commissioned a set of remarkable colour plates by Hoh Choo Chuan.

For a time during the Malayan Emergency he was seconded as Settlement Officer for the resettlement village of Semenyi, a key part of the Briggs Plan to deny manpower, money and food to the communist Chinese guerrillas. This was a difficult and at times dangerous task: he received a Commendation from the State of Selangor for his skill and tact in managing initially hostile squatters.

He took a wide interest in Malayan life and the establishment of Templer Park, Kuala Lumpur: his monograph The Basic Malay House was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1956.

On the Malayanisation of his post at the Rubber Research Institute in 1964, he was appointed as a Lecturer in Botany at the University of Western Australia, Perth, where his experiences in South-east Asia, and delight in its people's culture, was reassuring to students from that region. He and his students made many advances in the knowledge of the fungus flora of Western Australia.

As in Malaya, he quickly became part of the life and culture of his new country, and took Australian citizenship in 1989. He was a Volunteer Guide in King's Park, Perth. Visitors said that he sounded like David Attenborough – and this was not surprising, as he followed him at Clare College, taking the same Natural Sciences course.

His active retirement was foreclosed by heart failure, from which he died peacefully 18 months later, sadly missed by his wife Leila Looesli and by his daughter Line and son Willoughby.