Obituary: Professor M. M. Cole

Monica Mary Cole, geographer: born London 5 May 1922; Research Assistant, Ministry of Town and Country Planning 1944-45; Lecturer, University of Cape Town 1947; Lecturer, University of Witwatersrand 1948-51; Lecturer and Senior Lecturer, Keele University 1951-64; Professor of Geography, Bedford College / Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London 1964-87 (Emeritus), Director of Research in Geobotany, Terrain Analysis and Related Resource Use 1975-87; Leverhulme Emeritus Professorial Research Fellow 1988-94; died 8 January 1994.

M. M. COLE was a leader in her chosen field of academic research. During her distinguished career she produced pioneering works in the fields of biogeography and geobotany, remote sensing and terrain analysis, and mineral exploration. Her research spanned Central and Southern Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia and, latterly, China and Finland. But Cole was not the archetypal quiet and contemplative academic. She was a larger-than-life character, and things were never dull for those who found themselves around her.

Monica Cole was born in London and attended school in Wimbledon, where she was recognised by her peers as a polymath and gifted at sports. From here she went up to Bedford College, London, which was at that time an all-female college of the university. She graduated in 1943 with a First Class Honours degree in Geography, having taken Geology as a subsidiary. Between 1944 and 1945, she worked as a Research Assistant in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and it speaks volumes for her perspicacity that, in 1947, she was awarded a doctorate for a study of the economic geography of building materials.

As with so many of her generation of academic geographers, she took up her first lecturing appointment overseas, at the University of Cape Town in 1947. This was short- lived, for a year later she moved to the University of Witwatersrand, where Professor John Wellington headed the Department of Geography. With the early expansion of the redbrick universities, Cole returned to Britain to take up a lectureship at Keele University, where she was subsequently promoted to Senior Lecturer.

But the most decisive step in Cole's career came when she returned to her Alma Mater, Bedford College, to take up the Chair of Geography. From 1964 to 1975 she was Head of the Department, and she presided over its early expansion. By the early 1970s, Cole had engineered the development of one of the most extensive suites of analytical laboratories to he found in a British geography department.

Monica Cole was one of the first British geographers to bring work in the discipline to the attention of the wider scientific community. Following her early studies of plant indicators of mineralisation, she was swift to recognise the utility of the techniques of remote sensing, and from 1971 onwards she carried out investigations which were sponsored by the UK Department of Industry and the Ministry of Technology, in collaboration with the Australian Bureau of Mineral Resources, and on occasion under contract to Nasa. This was at a time when few geographers were involved in contract and consultancy research. From 1972 she served as a member of the Department of Transport Advisory Committee on the Landscaping of Trunk Roads, a task which she greatly enjoyed.

It was characteristic of Cole that she could not abide what she saw as 'armchair geography', although this could show itself in the form of impatience. She championed the cause of overseas geographical research at a time when some notable senior members of the profession had been warning of the dangers of 'otherwhereitis'.

For Cole there was no geography without fieldwork, a perspective which shows in her two major published works, The Savannas - Biogeography and Geobotany (1986) and South Africa (1961, with two further editions). Although the latter was criticised as a result of the pre-eminence given to the environment at the expense of the pressing issues of people and race, it represented the first major work on the territory.

In 1975, when she relinquished the headship of the department to Professor Ron Cooke - now Vice-Chancellor of York University - she was designated Director of Research in Geobotany, Terrain Analysis and Related Resource Use. In 1985, Bedford College amalgamated with Royal Holloway College to become Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, from whence she retired in 1987. However, she continued her work by means of a Leverhulme Fellowship, and was appointed Emeritus Professor at Royal Holloway.

Monica Cole was noted for her forthright manner and determination. She was always immaculately dressed, frequently wearing bright colours which reflected her ebullience and tenacity. She was a formidable adversary, but those who knew her well knew that she was prepared to take as much as she gave. Most conspicuously, in the 1960s she scaled the heights of a profession that, even today, finds all too few women as the incumbents of chairs.

(Photograph omitted)

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 People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker