Professor W. Mike Edmunds, 18th May, Blewbury Church
I would like to say a few words on behalf of the staff, students and alumni from Oxford University.
Mike joined the University in 2002 as Visiting Professor and first Director of the Water Centre.
As John has illustrated Oxford University welcomed Mike at a point in most careers where you would think ‘job well done’ and be pleased to hang up a well-worn, geologist’s hammer.
But Mike was a restless soul with energy and enthusiasm that extended beyond his considerable personal achievements in advancing science. He was passionate about interdisciplinary approaches that linked science with policy and management. He recognised science alone was simply not enough unless it informed, influenced and produced better policy and management decisions.
Oxford linked Mike with like-minded people. He worked to build the intellectual architecture for a new Masters’ programme in Water Science, Policy and Management. Interdisciplinary by design, global in reach, it launched in 2004. Last year we celebrated 10 years of the course with 220 alumni from 50 countries. Mike was in his element at the anniversary weekend as many of those inspired by his teaching returned to Oxford now working in Egypt, Malawi, Kenya, India, China, Bangladesh and the United States.
Mike was instrumental not only in the design of the course but also teaching and fieldwork. Every student remembers the two signature field-trips organised and led by Mike.
The inception weekend in Dorset took the class to the beautiful Jurassic Coast and the chalk aquifers Mike knew so well. Despite my cautions that we should start slowly Mike would hear nothing of it but launch into the three-dimensional nature of groundwater in the charming setting of Lulworth village. After a few years I started to take a perverse pleasure watching colour drain out of students’ faces as the shock of learning there was actually a lot water below everyone’s feet and it was also three-dimensional set nervous eyes twitching. But Mike was no remote or aloof teacher but would happily sit with the class in the pub each night drinking a couple of pints and calming nerves helping everyone get up to speed.
In class, Mike would balance a barrage of chemical equations with hours sitting drinking coffee with anxious students to help them navigate a domain unfamiliar but exciting. Daunted but mesmerised many students would gravitate to Mike and build their essays or dissertation work around his interests.
After two terms of intensive teaching the class emerged with significant and deeper knowledge for the next of Mike’s field excursions to the Ebro basin in Spain. Three images spring to my mind.
First, Mike’s tradition of sitting in the late afternoon on the stone benches outside the church, high in Murillo de Gallego in the foothills of the Pyrenees, looking down at fields of Almond trees in blossom in the valley below, listening to his reflections on the day just passed.
Second, Mike was never content sitting on a coach or simply walking by a river and he found a rafting company that would take us down a virgin stretch of the Gallego river encouraging everyone to get into the rather chilly water either willingly or otherwise.
Finally, as many of you know, Mike was a wonderful and passionate singer. One year our rafting trip was cancelled and we headed to a medieval castle where we normally never had time to stop. Mike, never one not to see a silver lining, plotted with a Hungarian student, who had travelled with her flute, to orchestrate an impromptu concert in a chapel with alabaster windows. I don’t think any student who ever went with Mike on a field trip forgets the experience.
With eleven years teaching on the course Mike has inspired over 250 students. Many of the alumni have written wishing to share their thoughts, here are but a few of them:
Chris - “He was such an inspiring teacher. He loved what he did and it resonated with all his students.”
Erin - “I think about him a lot in my work - we have a lot of karst features in our river basin, and I can't say that word without thinking of him.”
Lynn - “I loved Mike’s lectures and really appreciated the time he sat with me to explain things further. He was a great teacher.”
Victoria - “Dr Edmunds was such a great teacher, person and friend”
Alvar - “He was such a remarkable teacher, mentor and human being. Truly passionate about water, inspiring and supportive, instilling his enthusiasm to his students and colleagues.”
Laura – “He was a kind, generous and intelligent man. He left his mark and will be missed”
But Mike was more than a great scientist and teacher, he cared deeply about the inequalities in the world and the role improved groundwater management could play to address this. For two decades he was a Trustee of Wells for India reflecting his enduring, personal commitment to improving the lives of thousands of rural people in India.
Finally, I want to share a personal reflection. As some of you may know Mike was awarded the Meinzer prize in 2009; it is the global science prize for hydrogeology. Mike was the first British recipient. Mike was incredibly modest and would never set any store by his own achievements. But we met one morning when he was visibly chuffed about something. I confess I had never heard of this prize but Mike clearly had and he was really happy. In a life over-brimming with adventure, passion and real impacts this award recognised the global significance of his work.
I have no doubt Mike’s passion and vision for interdisciplinary water management will flourish in decades to come. In part through the next generation of young water professionals, who have benefited from the precious opportunity to learn from and be inspired by his generous spirit and formidable intellect.
Dr Rob Hope & colleagues, Oxford University