Death of Professor Ronald G. Board

It is with regret that we announce the death of Professor Ronald G. Board, one of the founding members of the University. His funeral will be held on Friday 5 April at 4pm in West Wiltshire Crematorium, Devizes Road, Semington, BA14 6HL.

“Ron” was from Devon attending Colyton Grammar School before he undertook two years National Service after the war. He started a BSc in Bristol in 1952 and, after completing a PhD in Edinburgh he lectured and did research at Reading and in Iowa before joining Bristol College of Science and Technology in 1965. He then transferred to the new University of Bath in 1966 when there was just one building on campus, now called 4S. He was the de facto leader of the Microbiology Group (of five staff) within the School of Biological Sciences. During the ensuing 30 years he rose through the ranks and obtained a Chair in 1991, finally retiring in August 1995.

He had an international research reputation as a food safety microbiologist and advised both governments and food companies. His interests were wide-ranging but he specialised in studies of Salmonella in poultry and of yeasts in cold meats / sausages. He was an active member of the Society for Applied Bacteriology as an editor of one of the journals (1973-1982 and 1988-1991) and editor for reviews (1988-1991) and was made an Honorary Member of the Society in 1992. He was a prolific author himself writing or editing 14 books and producing over 100 publications.

Some of Ron Board’s former PhD students and colleagues have provided personal observations.

Prof George Nychas from the Greek National University describes the effect Ron’s teaching had on him. “First he helped me to understand the importance of my own country and, strangely, I felt this was perhaps the greatest 'thing' a teacher can do to inspire his students. Secondly, he tried to teach me Food Microbiology and, no matter whether he got good results from his efforts, please be assured that I consider him the one person who is the cornerstone of Food Microbiology in my country. And last but not least, his spirit is always in every single step that I make in my life and what I was taught by him I have tried to apply for the benefit of society.”

Prof Nick Sparks from Scotland’s Rural College includes some anecdotes and an appreciation. He recalls “quirky moments that really don't warrant a mention, such as when working in the laminar flow cabinet, Ron reached past to light his pipe from the Bunsen – and I guess this would be frowned upon now on a number of levels! There was his slight air of concern (until the source was identified) when much of South Building was burnt out! There was a slightly greater level of concern when organising an incubation conference at the hotel at the foot of his garden that his ducks (offspring of ex Cherry Valley stock and supplied originally as part of an experiment), might be spotted by the folk attending from the company! In the main though the abiding memories are of the breadth of his knowledge, his recall and insight and above all his enthusiasm coupled with the rigour and quality of the training that he provided for his students and genuine interest in making sure that we found gainful employment once we had finished our PhD.  I suspect that Ron's approach would not find favour now, in an age of check lists and QA, but I can think of no better supervisor and few better scientists.”

Dr Viv Dillon of Liverpool University writes: “It was always a pleasure to chat to Ron about work as he was very incisive in his questioning and this kept you 'on your toes'. He always introduced himself as ‘Board by name but not by nature’ and that certainly summed him up! People commented that his great love was the contents of his breakfast; sausages and eggs!

Our own Prof Stuart Reynolds writes: "Ron Board was a remarkably versatile scientist. His work on the food spoilage microbiology of hens' eggs led to the realization that the microstructure of the eggshell played a crucial role in keeping microbes out, while nevertheless allowing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the developing embryo and the atmosphere outside. This research, together with Board's interest in exotic wildfowl (some of which he kept in his garden at home), led Board to become an international expert on the comparative anatomy of birds' eggshells and the physiology of egg incubation. Few of those reading his many publications on this subject would have realized that Board was in fact a microbiologist."

Sibel Roller, Professor Emerita at London South Bank University, writes: "After Ron retired from the University of Bath, he acted as a mentor and advisor to my fledgling research group at London South Bank University for almost a decade. He contributed selflessly with his vast in-depth knowledge of microbial ecology and would often arrive at the university from Wiltshire laden with heavy books and papers demonstrating some of the important points he wished to make. At meetings and conferences, he had the knack of asking the simplest of questions that would have everyone floored with the clarity of thinking behind them."

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