Obituary: Professor William Hayes

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The Independent Online
William Hayes, geneticist: born 18 January 1913; Lecturer in Bacteriology, Trinity College Dublin 1947-50; Senior Lecturer in Bacteriology, Postgraduate Medical School of London 1950-57; Director, MRC Molecular Genetics Unit 1957-68, Honorary Director 1968-73; FRS 1964; FRSE 1968; Professor of Molecular Genetics, Edinburgh University 1968-73; Professor and Head of the Department of Genetics, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University 1974-78; FAA 1976; Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar, Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology 1979-80; Visiting Fellow, Botany Department, ANU 1980-86; married 1941 Honora Lee (one son); died 7 January 1994.

WILLIAM HAYES will be remembered primarily for two outstanding achievements: first, his discovery of transferable virus-like genetic elements between bacteria, and secondly for his superb classic textbook: The Genetics of Bacteria and Their Viruses (1964), which is written in beautifully clear and readable English.

It was in the early Fifties that I got to know Bill Hayes and we were deeply influenced by what seemed to be complementary interests, involving (on his side) the genetics and (my own) the biochemistry of bacteria. It seemed inevitable that we should feel strongly that we might combine to teach and research in building what could be an approach to a complete molecular biology of micro-organisms.

It appeared obvious that our two groups of workers, one exploring the biochemistry of enzyme production in bacteria and Hayes's Medical Research Council Unit of Bacterial Genetics should be joined together, and this was helped immeasurably by his personal charm and generous forbearance. It only remained for Edinburgh University to seize the opportunity through the talented foresight of the then Vice-Chancellor, Sir Michael Swann, and so institute in 1968 the first teaching department of molecular biology in a British university.

Bill Hayes had been ill for some time before he finally had a coronary thrombosis, with the usual complications, which ended his life earlier this month.

He had been out of touch with science and his former colleagues, but was cared for with love by his wife, Nora, in a retirement home near Sydney, Australia, where he had moved following his departure from the Australian National University in Canberra, having left Edinburgh University in 1973.