Obituary: Professor E. J. Wood

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The Independent Online
Edward James Wood, classicist: born 3 September 1902; Lecturer in Classics, Manchester University 1928-32; Professor of Latin, Aberystwyth 1932-38; Professor of Latin, Leeds University 1938-67 (Emeritus 1967-93), Pro-Vice Chancellor 1957-59; married 1933 Marion Chorley; died Burnham-on-Sea 6 May 1993.

E. J. WOOD was one of a line of notable Scottish classicists who came south of the border to practise their profession. For 30 years he was Professor of Latin Language and Literature at Leeds University.

After graduating from Aberdeen University in 1925, where he had been a pupil of Alexander Souter, the lexicographer and patristic, he proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, and was accorded marks of special merit in Part II of the Classical Tripos in 1928. His first university appointment was at Manchester, whose Latin department at that time had the unusual distinction of having two professors, the formidable duumvirate of RS Conway, the Virgilian scholar, and WB Anderson, later AE Housman's successor at Cambridge. Four years later, a month after his 30th birthday, he became Professor of Latin at Aberystwyth.

In 1938 he was appointed Professor of Latin Language and Literature at Leeds University where he succeeded another Aberdonian, the late Sir Peter Noble. Wood's tenure of the chair at Leeds spanned almost 30 years. When he first came, the university had 1,700 full-time students; by the time he retired in 1967 that number had increased fourfold. Though he never regarded administration as other than a means to facilitate academic purposes, he found his services increasingly in demand on a wide range of committees. He took particular interest in all matters connected with the Brotherton Library and with student welfare; and for a number of years he was Deputy Chairman of the Appointments Committee, a post for which his friendly manner and shrewd judgement of character and ability specially fitted him.

From 1957 to 1959 he was Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the university. Within his own department his personal interests remained firmly based in language and literature, but he argued vigorously for the establishment of a lectureship in Romano- British archaeology, a post that was established in 1947. From the outset that new option proved immensely popular, and generations of students gained their first experience of practical archaeology during the annual excavations at the Roman fort at Bainbridge in Wensleydale.

Those who knew Wood recognised in him one of the outstanding Latinists of his day. Though he never obtruded his knowledge, the range and depth of his learning in the field of Latin literature was phenomenal, and he also had a close familiarity with Italian and Portuguese epic - an interest that reflected his great affection for Virgil and the Silver Latin epic poets. It was a surprise to many that he published so little - a small number of contributions to classical journals here and abroad, and the published version of his Presidential Lecture on 'Virgil and Today', delivered to the Leeds and District Branch of the Classical Association in 1945.

But his priorities were different; reading and teaching were his main aims. He was content if by his own teaching and enthusiasm undergraduates could be brought to enjoy for themselves the major authors of the ancient world. That he was successful in that aim was amply shown by the number of former students who kept in touch with him for years after they had left Leeds. And if he did not seek a reputation in print for himself, he gave generous support to those of his colleagues who sought to make their mark in an academic world increasingly dominated by the need to publish; of the dozen or so appointments he made within the field of Classics during the 20 years after the war four became Professors and three Readers.

But what would perhaps have given him still greater pleasure is the fact that more than 25 years after his retirement he is still remembered with warm affection by those who served under and alongside him.