Obituary: Professor Gerald Wibberley
Friday 19 November 1993
GERALD WIBBERLEY played a leading role in raising public awareness of the need to have a balance of activities in the countryside in order to protect the environment itself and the welfare of the people living in it.
Wibberley was born in Abergavenny, in the shadow of the Black Mountains, in 1915. He took a First Class honours degree in Agriculture at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he was greatly influenced by the doyen of agricultural economics, Arthur Ashby, and completed a masters degree at the Agricultural Economics Research Institute, Oxford, and his Ph D at the University of Illinois.
He returned to Britain in 1940 and was appointed District Officer of the East Sussex Agricultural Committee with the wartime task of encouraging maximum food production. In addition to these activities, he was also a member of a Home Guard guerrilla unit, which, in the event of an enemy invasion, was trained to operate behind enemy lines. He had many amusing anecdotes about these secret, underground activities, which did not offend his Quaker beliefs.
After the war, he joined the Rural Land Utilisation section of the Ministry of Agriculture, where he began to develop his perception of the economic and social implications arising from competing uses of rural land. His views became a challenge to the conventional orthodoxy of farming first. He found this discomforting within the bureaucracy, so he moved into
It is perhaps forgotten how powerful the farming lobby was when Wibberley was appointed Reader and Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Wye College in 1954. There was vociferous opposition to his main theme: emphasising the importance of non- farming uses of land. This opposition was especially marked towards seminal works such as The Garden Controversy (1956), by R. Best and J. Ward, and Wibberley's Agriculture and Urban Growth (1959). But these publications greatly influenced both generations of students, and thought and legislation on land-use planning over the next 20 years.
Wibberley was appointed Professor of Rural Economy in 1963 and Ernest Cook Professor of Countryside Planning, jointly between University College, London, and Wye College in 1969. At that time he was greatly in demand as an expert witness, and on large land-use commissions, such as those inquiring into the proposed site for Third London Airport, Lyme New Town and Milton Keynes.
Although he provided leadership in dealing with the problems (which increasing affluence and mobility brought to the countryside), he nevertheless showed himself to be, academically, a man of vision who doggedly pursued a multi- disciplinary approach. The teaching and research undertaken in his department embraced not only the traditional subjects of agricultural policy and farm business management, but also the conservation and socio-economics of the countryside and agrarian development in the Third World. The latter arose from his contact with agricultural faculties of universities, in Africa and the West Indies, in a special relationship with London University.
Wibberley's insight and forecasts have thus changed the resource balance and focus of Wye College, to meet the present needs of rural development, at home and overseas.
He was a director of the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, a member of the Nature Conservancy Council, and an honorary member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. He was president of the Agricultural Economics Society in 1976, appointed CBE in 1972 and awarded an honorary DSc by Bradford University in 1982, the year he retired. In 1985 he was elected a Fellow of Wye College.
Gerald Wibberley was a kindly and attractive man, held in affection by friends, colleagues and students alike. Though quintessentially an academic, he was a man of compassion; so his studies tended to focus on problems of rural deprivation - as they affected farm and rural workers and rural youth. He gave much thought to the problems of creating rural employment and to the adverse impact of second homes on village life and economy.
His gift for public speaking was memorable; even his economics lectures gained the rapt attention of his students. But he was at his most eloquent when gently berating a hostile audience for not seeing the folly of their views.
Gerald Wibberley also loved music and had a fine tenor voice; singing with local choral societies was for him a source of great pleasure. On occasions he even strummed a guitar while singing a country and western song.
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