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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
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

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape