Passing Knowledge

Obituary: Thomas William John Wright (1928-2016) Plantsman and Academic

"I owe Tom (Wright) a lot for my life long career in Landscape and ongoing involvement with the LI. It is a tribute to Tom’s enthusiasm and support that I'm certain that I'm only one of many, many of his former students who can say that he helped shape their careers" Andrew Bannister, PPLI

"Many years ago I was asked, by the editor of the Land Lines broadsheet, to nominate two heroes: I chose Charles Darwin and Tom Wright and I still stand by that choice today" Helen Neve, CMLI

Tom’s academic career began as an undergraduate at Wye College (University of London). He graduated in horticulture in the early 1950s and eventually moved to South Devon to become a nursery manager. But it was as a teacher and academic, both at the then Pershore Institute of Horticulture and subsequently back at Wye, that so many of us first knew him and came under his spell. He became a guru to all who studied with him; he had only to wrinkle that wide forehead for us to be running to do his bidding with upmost loyalty and confidence. He was, par excellence, plantsman, academic, teacher, historian, inspiration and benevolent patriarch to his wide flung alumni. He is remembered with very great fondness. (Helen Neve MLI, MSC LEDM 1976)

Tom’s career is beautifully summarised in his own article for the Kent Gardens Trust, published online in 2013 at http://www.kentgardenstrust.org.uk/documents/newsl...

But first, Andrew Bannister, one of Tom’s early students and a Past President of the Landscape Institute, writes of Tom’s long and influential career:

I first met Tom in 1969 when I did his Floriculture unit as part of my Horticulture degree at Wye College and we kept in touch for almost half a century!

During that Floriculture unit he explained to us that he was setting up an MSc course to be called "Landscape Ecology, Design and Maintenance" (LEDM). For the first few years of the programme Prof Wibberley would not let it be called “Management” as he felt this would confuse people. I was never quite sure whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first, as the then Institute of Landscape Architects (ILA) was beginning to consider expanding its membership to include Landscape Managers and Tom got heavily involved in that process. So, did this inside information spur Tom on in his desire to set up the course or did the course help give impetus and confidence to the ILA to expand and become the Landscape Institute (LI)? I suspect it was a bit of each.
Anyway, timing is everything, as they say, and it was the right course at the right time, so I finished my Horticulture degree and went straight on to join the first ever LEDM. There were just 5 of us and I think Tom always had a soft spot for us guinea pigs. It was a great year and Tom had just the right light touch to get the best out of us. We were all from very different backgrounds and we shared our experiences and knowledge with one another and with him.

In 1973 Tom got me to teach one segment of the LEDM and I carried on making that contribution until the Imperial College era when the course collapsed. I'm so glad Tom got out before those last, sad years.

In the early years of the course Tom carried on working with the ILA and joined their "ad hoc" committee that was trying to make the idea of "expansion" work. Again, never one to forget his former students, he put me forward to join the committee as its work was progressing. The outcome was the formation of the LI and many former LEDM students were able to join a professional body, and indeed, this continues to be the case to the present day. Tom was the main external (i.e. non ILA ) member of that committee and I think those of us who went on to join the LI and have professional careers owe him a lot. Having got all that sorted out, Tom then went on to make his mark in the field of historic gardens, something in which he'd always been interested!

So basically I owe Tom a lot for my life long career in Landscape and ongoing involvement with the LI. It is a tribute to Tom’s enthusiasm and support that I'm certain that I'm only one of many, many of his former students who can say that he helped shape their careers.
My last contact with Tom was Christmas 2014 when he added a note to his Xmas card asking me if I'd like the slides he'd got of his first LEDM course and the various trips we did. I wrote back and said ‘yes please’, but unfortunately never heard from him again. Right to the end he was thinking of his ex-students.
Andrew Bannister PPLI, BSc Horticulture 1970, MSc LEDM 1971