Obituary: Professor Michael Barrett
Thursday 28 July 1994
MICHAEL BARRETT took office as Vice-Chancellor of Buckingham University at an especially challenging time in the development of Britain's youthful, only independent university. Buckingham had been granted its Royal Charter only two and a half years before his appointment in 1985. During his term of office Barrett took an active part in promoting a careful expansion of numbers and of academic disciplines. He encouraged in particular the increase of postgraduate studies and the enlargement of the sciences.
Barrett was by training a pharmacologist who in the early stages of his career made important contributions to the development of beta-blockers when employed in the pharmaceuticals division of ICI in the Sixties. From ICI he moved into the university world, and from 1970 to 1984 he was Professor and Head of the Department of Pharmacology at Leeds University. Towards the end of his time at Leeds, he served the university as Pro-Vice-Chancellor, from 1979 to 1981, an office which was particularly onerous since the then Vice-Chancellor, Sir Edward Boyle, was terminally ill.
During this period Barrett continued to be active in the affairs of the British Pharmacological Society and also in the International Union of Pharmacy, occupying the office of Secretary-General for several years. Unlike so many academics, he seemed to relish the challenges of administration and became an exceptionally good and firm committee chairman. With such talents he effectively chaired the Leeds Eastern Health Authority and served as Honorary Administrator of the prestigious Leeds International Pianoforte Competition.
It came as no surprise to his friends and colleagues at Leeds when in January 1985 Barrett became Vice-Chancellor of Buckingham, replacing Sir Alan Peacock. He was instrumental in pushing for the introduction of Computer Science, and strongly supported the move from Imperial College of the late Professor Anne Beloff- Chain's biochemistry research group, which then gave a biochemical dimension to the Life Sciences.
Barrett's administrative skills were very much in evidence in ensuring that the generous funding to biochemistry from the Clore Foundation was rapidly transformed into the bricks and mortar of a new, well-equipped laboratory for research into diabetes and obesity.
The research from the laboratory had received international recognition and in consequence has recently attracted some pounds 850,000 in research grants from different sources. Three new halls of residence for students were funded and completed during Barrett's Vice-Chancellorship.
Barrett forged valuable links between other institutions and Buckingham. As a member of the Board of Governors of the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, and as Chairman of its Academic Board, he brought staff from both institutions together to develop degree courses in Agriculture and Land Management and International Agribusiness Management, which Buckingham University validates. Similarly, he developed fruitful links with the London College of Dance which resulted in members of the Buckingham staff playing a significant part in the design of the college's first BA degree in dance.
Barrett's time at Buckingham was by no means easy. Some 18 months before his retirement, in 1989, he suffered the sudden tragic loss of his wife Pat, a greatly respected doctor who worked with a local practice. He himself had to undergo major heart surgery a year later, and it was this that caused him to take early retirement. On his retirement in 1991, he was made an Emeritus Professor of the university. He then turned from academic affairs to become actively involved with the Aylesbury Vale Health Authority, and earlier this year moved into local politics when he was elected as Conservative Councillor to represent South Buckingham on the Buckingham County Council.
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