Professor Stan Gregory obituary - 1926-2016

Former Head of the Department of Geography.

Professor Stan Gregory

We are very grateful to Professor Stan Gregory, who died in 2016, for leaving £15,000 to the University in his Will, which has been used to provide scholarships for two postgraduate students as well as contributing to the University of Sheffield Southern Africa Scholarship Support Fund (SUSSASSF).

One of the recipients of a Stan Gregory Scholarship, Josh Samuels, is studying for an MA in International Criminology and spoke of the enormous impact of his scholarship:

“Without the support of the Stan Gregory Scholarship my educational journey would probably have stopped at undergraduate level. This scholarship has allowed me to continue on this path, by contributing to my fees and living expenses, allowing me focus solely on my studies, in pursuit of eventual PhD study. Generosity like Professor Gregory's is not underestimated!”

Stan Gregory was born in London in 1926 and educated at the Polytechnic Secondary School on Regent Street. He acquired his initial knowledge of meteorology while serving in the Navy towards the end of the Second World War. He then obtained a first in geography at King's College London (1950), followed by an MA (1951) and a PhD (1958) at the University of Liverpool while working as an assistant lecturer.

Working at Liverpool until 1968, Professor Gregory later moved to the University of Sheffield, where he remained until retirement, as Professor of Geography (1968-88). He served as Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences (1978-80) and a Pro Vice-Chancellor (1980-84), as well as taking visiting posts in Australia, Canada, India, Eastern Europe, Jamaica and a number of African countries.

A leading climatologist, Professor Gregory had a particular interest in the study of rainfall in subtropical and tropical regions and related issues of water resources. Yet he was probably better known as a leader of the "quantitative revolution" in geography.

To influence researchers and universities, he co-founded the Study Group on Quantitative Methods within the Institute of British Geographers. To make a similar impact in schools, he persuaded the Geographical Association to set up a Committee on Models and Quantitative Techniques in Teaching, and he became its first chair. He also promoted the "revolution" though a landmark 1963 textbook.

“Few textbooks have changed the practice of geography,” said Sir Paul Curran, the Vice-Chancellor of City University London, “but Stan's ‘Statistical Methods and the Geographer’ was one of them. I consider myself fortunate to have been taught by Stan as an undergraduate and supported by Stan as a junior colleague. He was an inspiration to me and, of course, his textbook is still on my shelf.”

Emeritus Professor Paul White, a former colleague of Stan’s, spoke of how Stan devoted part of his life to developing the skills of African and Middle Eastern weather forecasters, meteorologists and climatologists so that they could understand the climates of their regions, adding:

“I suppose in some way he was a forerunner of today's specialists in climate change.”

Professor White also spoke warmly about Stan’s support of his students, and that: 

“Even when he was Head of Department students found Stan approachable, interested in them as individuals, and ready to give wise advice - again on an individual basis. He became a role model for many and kept in touch with significant numbers of his former students right through his long years of retirement.”

Stan Gregory lecturing
Professor Gregory lecturing in the Department of Geography

In a eulogy at Professor Gregory's funeral, Ron Johnston, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex, recalled Professor Gregory as:

“a major agent for change in how geography was practised here in the UK” who was also a highly effective university administrator. His

“quiet tact and great patience in negotiations” had proved great assets during a period of student unrest while he was Pro Vice-Chancellor.

A keen and intrepid traveller, Stan saw the most salient geographical features of the globe: some of the highest mountains, longest rivers, mightiest water falls, biggest and deepest lakes, and largest deserts. His wife Helga told us that he also took great interest in people and their customs as well as flora and particularly fauna, adding that:

“At the end of his life he had covered nearly all the destinations on his wish list and clocked up over 150 countries, including more unusual destinations like North Korea and Antarctica - truly a geographer's dream.”

Shortly before his death, Professor Gregory celebrated his 90th birthday by visiting the site of the Palace of the Queen of Sheba in Oman. He died after a stroke on 8 April 2016 and is survived by his widow Helga, two daughters Kathleen and Fiona from his 47 year marriage to Marjorie and his three grandsons Christopher, Craig and Andrew.