Obituary: Professor Walter Bartley

Walter Bartley, biochemist: born Brighton 20 January 1916; Professor of Biochemistry, Sheffield University 1963-81, Dean of the Faculty of Pure Science 1972-75, Pro Vice Chancellor 1977-81; married (one son, one daughter); died Sheffield 19 August 1994.

WALTER BARTLEY's path to becoming a university professor of biochemistry and later a Dean and Pro Vice Chancellor at Sheffield University was, to say the least, unconventional.

Bartley had spent his early years in Brighton and was educated at the local grammar school. Yet, because of family circumstances, he did not go on to higher education but left school to become a technician at Brighton College of Technology in the early Thirties where he helped to prepare biology classes, including those for summer schools run by academics from the zoology department at Sheffield University.

At the outset of the Second World War, Bartley registered as a conscientious objector and was dismissed from his post. Fortunately his contacts with the Sheffield zoologists led to his becoming a volunteer in a study of scabies being directed by Kenneth Mellanby at the Sorby Institute in the city. His arrival there in November 1940 could not have been more dramatic, since on the first night he was not only bombed out of the Scala Cinema (by coincidence, later part of the Department of Biochemistry at the university), but also out of his hotel. At the Sorby Institute, where he met his future wife, Mella, the work with scabies was followed by studies on Vitamin A deficiency and night blindness; and Vitamin C deficiency and scurvy directed by Professor Hans Krebs.

At the end of the war Bartley accepted Krebs's offer of a post as technician in the Department of Biochemistry at Sheffield University. Under Krebs's guidance, the department was an international centre of excellence for biochemistry and Bartley readily acknowledged the first-rate training he obtained from the outstanding individuals about him. At Krebs's suggestion, he went on to become a mature student at the university and emerged with First Class honours in physiology. He completed a PhD under Krebs's supervision and then became a member of the Medical Research Council Unit for Cell Metabolism Research which Krebs directed.

Bartley's association with Sheffield was interrupted when, in 1954, he moved to Oxford when Krebs was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry there. I never gained the impression that Bartley was totally happy with his experiences in Oxford. Although his research work went very well and he developed a great interest in energy metabolism and mitochondrial function it was difficult for him to come to terms with the apparent lack of acceptance of newcomers by university staff. He was also concerned by the lack of facilities for postgraduates and was therefore pleased to be associated with the creation of Linacre House, which provided accommodation to those not affiliated to a college.

In 1963 Bartley was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry at Sheffield University and renewed an association with the city that continued to the end of his life. He rebuilt a department which had been depleted by the 'brain drain' to the United States and amongst others appointed J. R. Quayle (later Vice-Chancellor of Bath University) and L. M. Birt (later Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales) and three members of a Medical Research Council group studying intracellular organelles under his direction, as senior lecturers.

As a member of that group and later of the university staff I was able to admire the way he achieved an expansion of teaching and research in the department. He pursued research on adaptation to stress in mammals while encouraging his staff to follow their own areas of interest. He was an excellent head of department, prepared to encourage the development of others by giving responsibility to those, however inexperienced, he thought could cope with it. When he delegated to others he always supported their decisions even when he did not agree with them. He was a dedicated teacher who together with P. Banks and L. M. Birt wrote an innovative textbook for medical students, The Biochemistry of Tissues (1968). Together with his wife he helped his staff through their various problems, entertained them and took an interest in their offspring.

Bartley's administrative skills and integrity made him a most successful Dean of the Faculty of Pure Science from 1972 to 1975 and for the last four years of his service to the University a Pro Vice Chancellor. There is no doubt that his conscientiousness took a heavy toll on him and I suspect he much regretted being taken away from laboratory work. But on retirement, apart from having more time for the gardening he enjoyed so much, he returned to the bench, initially at the Wolfson Institute for Biotechnology within the university and in more recent years to work in my own laboratory, in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. He maintained the high standards he had achieved throughout his career and established an excellent rapport with the technicians and research students.

There is little doubt that Bartley's background and training contributed a great deal to producing a very caring man with a considerable determination to succeed. Although his occasionally blunt and direct manner could intimidate some staff as well as students, he had their interests at heart and many individuals owe him a debt of gratitude for his efforts on their behalf. He was an exceptional man who never allowed personal differences to cloud his judgement and appreciation of the achievements of others.

It was a great privilege to have worked with Walter Bartley and I shall never forget the brevity and clarity of the advice he gave. It was exemplified by his comment when I became head of his old department: 'Remember that you can only resign once.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?