The first Dean of Science of the former Northern Territory University (NTU) has passed away, aged 65.
Professor David Lawrence Wigston, a well-respected campus identity who made a significant contribution to the development of the NTU (the predecessor of Charles Darwin University) died at his home in Flint, Michigan, USA, on December 30, 2008.
Remembered as a highly intelligent and cultured man, both in the sciences and the arts, Professor Wigston quickly became a popular figure on his arrival in Darwin in 1986.
As inaugural Dean, Professor Wigston’s first task was to prepare a curriculum, faculty, and ensure facilities in preparation for the first influx of students into the new University College. It was a race against the clock, especially the hiring of an entire science faculty and installation of laboratory facilities. The hard work paid off and a top-rate faculty and laboratory facilities were in place on opening day.
Later, when the University College was merged with the then Darwin Institute of Technology to become the new Northern Territory University, Professor Wigston was at the helm of the science unit, managing the often difficult decisions inherent in an institutional reorganisation. His leadership produced excellent outcomes.
Professor Wigston was born in the east end of London, England, on December 12, 1943 and from an early age excelled academically.
After earning a PhD in forest ecology at the University of Exeter, UK, he remained in universities throughout his professional life.
Professor Wigston developed a new program in environmental science at the University of Exeter that continues to this day. He then moved to Papua New Guinea as Professor of Forestry at Lea, and later became the first Dean of Science at NTU.
He was a recognised pioneer in the field of historical ecology which combines field research with historical evidence from written records, paintings and photographs to understand distribution patterns of plants and animals in natural and cultural landscapes.
Friend and colleague, Emeritus Professor David Carment said Professor Wigston was an enthusiastic and energetic Dean and was keen to ensure that the Territory’s new university excelled in its research, teaching and contacts with the wider community.
“He loved social events and good wine and food,” Professor Carment said.
“I recall that on my first visit to his office he insisted, 'in honour of the occasion', that I join him in drinking some excellent sherry even although it was well before midday.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with him as he had a strong interest in environmental history and even went on to do some ground-breaking research on the Northern Territory's forest history and central desert cattle stations.”
Professor Wigston held concurrent fellowship appointments with several universities, including New College at Oxford University, George Washington University, and the University of Florida.
In 1996, he accepted a professorial position at the University of Michigan in Flint as Director of Research, and later returned to a primary role of classroom teacher where he again excelled. He received highest accolades from his students. One wrote that Professor Wigston’s lectures were “better than anything on the Discovery Channel”.
Professor Wigston is survived by his wife Sarah and daughter Alexa Dobinson.