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Emeritus Professor Norman Pye

Emeritus Professor Norman Pye, photograph taken in 1965 in his room at the University of Leicester

Emeritus Professor Norman Pye - Obituary

Norman Pye, who died aged 93 on March 16th 2007, was Professor and Head of the Department of Geography from 1954 until his retirement in 1979 and an influential figure in the creation of the University as we know it today. He was one of a small band of senior Professors who oversaw the transformation of the then University College into a fully independent degree awarding institution in 1957 and subsequently guided the University’s development during a period of rapid expansion. He was Dean of the Faculty of Science 1957-60, Pro-Vice-Chancellor 1963-66, and served on innumerable University committees. He represented the University on a number of national committees; he also served for 15 years on the board of the Corby Development Corporation and 20 years on Northamptonshire Education Committee. Upon succeeding Professor P.W. Bryan, Professor Pye set about creating a modern well-equipped teaching and research Geography department; he was responsible for the move to the Bennett Building and had the deep satisfaction of seeing student numbers increase tenfold and that of staff fourfold during his term of office.

Born in Wigan, where he attended the local grammar school, Professor Pye graduated from the University of Manchester in 1935 with a first class honours degree in Geography, followed by a Diploma in Education ( Class I ). He then pursued postgraduate studies at Cambridge and in 1938 was appointed assistant lecturer at Manchester. Between 1940 and 1946 Professor Pye was seconded to the Admiralty, Hydrographic Department, as Cartographic Officer and upon return to Manchester was made lecturer and in 1953 senior lecturer. At various times he held visiting Professorial positions at the Universities of Alberta, Edmonton, Vancouver, Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.

Professor Pye’s main research interest was in the field of physical geography particularly climatology, cartography and surveying and he published in all these three sub-fields. He was a member of the 1938 Cambridge expedition to Spitsbergen to study the movement of glaciers and many of its findings are used as the benchmark for several contemporary studies. In 1946 he was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for research in climatology and in 1952 a Fulbright award for research in geomorphology in the Mojave and Sonora deserts, USA. He also served on the councils of a number of academic societies including the Royal Geographical Society, Geographical Association, Institute of British Geographers and Royal Meteorological Society. Between 1965 and 1979 Professor Pye was editor of Geography and in 1972 he edited the volume, Leicester and its Region, to coincide with the British Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting held at the University.

Throughout his career Professor Pye strove to enhance the reputation of the University and the maintenance of standards during periods of rapid change. Those values that he held so strongly and which guided his contribution to the development of the University were expounded at length in his last seminar to the department in February 1979. From reading Tony Budd’s notes made at the time it is significant that so many of the points he made over a quarter of a century ago are still relevant today; for example,

“the most precious thing in a department is not the gadgetry but the students. I cannot conceive of a University without teaching but without research it would degenerate into a high school” “students need to distinguish between discussion (working towards truth) and debate (working towards victory of one’s own argument)” “on University members of staff…….there is a danger of them becoming so expert that they cannot be contradicted but are not worth contradicting. There is always need for stimulating contradictions”

In his retirement Professor Pye remained a great advocate of the University, always keen to hear news of new developments. He was Chairman of Convocation from 1982 to 1985 and a regular supporter of University events including his beloved Wine Club of which he was a founder member and President.

His wife, Isabel, who provided unstinting support to Professor Pye during his career and contributed enormously herself to the life of the University particularly the Women’s Club, died in 2000 after their move to Winchester. He is survived by his two sons, Alistair and Michael.

Professor Gareth Lewis, Emeritus Professor, Department of Geography

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