Professor John Gareth Morris CBE DPhil FIBiol FLSW FRS (1932-2023)

We are saddened to communicate that Professor John Gareth Morris CBE DPhil FIBiol FLSW FRS, passed away aged 91 on Sunday 10th December 2023 in Llandogo, Monmouthshire. His cremation at Aberystwyth took place on Friday 29th December.

Born in Briton Ferry in 1932, later moving to Porthcawl, Gareth was educated at Bridgend Grammar School, before studying Biochemistry at Leeds University.

Having already discovered the delights of microbial physiology, he moved to the Microbiology Unit in the Biochemistry Department at Oxford University (Trinity College), where he studied for his DPhil under the supervision of DD. Woods FRS (The Synthesis of Vitamin B, and Related Substances by Microorganisms, 1958).

He remained at Oxford as a Guinness Research Fellow in Microbiological Biochemistry and later Tutor at Balliol College interspersed with a year at Hopkins Marine Station, Berkeley working with Roger Stanier. In 1961 he followed his colleague Hans Kornberg to the newly formed Biochemistry Department at Leicester University.

In 1971 Gareth took up his appointment to the newly established Chair of Microbiology at UCW Aberystwyth, with the remit to institute an Honours Degree Course in Microbiology in what then became the Department of Botany and Microbiology.

The Microbiology BSc course was and remains notable for the breadth of its coverage/syllabus and its special emphasis on laboratory-based practical work and field courses.

Existing strengths in dairy microbiology (Muriel Rhodes-Roberts), mycology (John Hedger) and phycology (Alvin Jones), were strengthened by the appointment of Mike Young (bacterial genetics) and Douglas Kell (microbial energetics).

The group he established was of global renown in the study of Clostridia and other obligate anaerobic bacteria, with special reference to their potential exploitation for the production of biofuels and their utility as agents of specific biotransformations.

Gareth believed in the complementarity of teaching alongside research in universities (“when you confess in your lectures, you need to have some sins from your research lab to talk about”).

In the training of future microbiologists (and other biologists) he also believed it was important that they possess a full range of skills, including relevant aspects of maths and the physical sciences. To this end he wrote A Biologist’s Physical Chemistry (1st ed. 1968; 2nd ed. 1974), a textbook that was widely recommended and much used by generations of biology students.

The value of collaboration was also close to his heart and together with Professor David Hughes, Head of the Microbiology Department at Cardiff University, he co-founded the Gregynog Microbiology meetings in 1971. These annual residential meetings at Gregynog Hall, Tregynon were attended by undergrads, postgrads and staff.

Interspersed with woodland walks and the inter-department football match (in which Gareth was not known to participate!), these events provided the first seminar presentation opportunity for many a young microbiologist. Later broadened to include other Welsh universities, these meetings were held annually long beyond his own retirement.

He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1988 and to the CBE in 1994 (‘For services to Science’) and Honorary Member of the Microbiology Society in 1997.

He was also Chair of the Biological Sciences Committee of the Science and Engineering Research Council (1978-81), later Chair of the  Biological Sciences Committee of the University Grants Committee 1981-86 and a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1996-2000). He retired and became an active Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth in 2000. He was elected as a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales in 2011.

Whilst at Oxford, he met Mary Kehoe a trainee nurse at the Radcliffe Hospital who hailed from Enniscorthy, County Wexford. They married in Leicester in 1962 where their children, Martha and Paul, were born. Mary was well known in Aberystwyth in her own right, as the longest serving volunteer at the Oxfam shop on Terrace Road. Despite the great sadness of Mary’s death in 2013, he continued his regular coffee break visits to the Edward Llwyd Building and lunches at the Starling Cloud to meet current and retired colleagues.

Even after moving to Monmouth in 2019, to be near Martha and her family, he retained regular phone contact and e-mail with former colleagues to ensure that he was updated about recent developments within the department and “College”. In particular, he was keen to learn of any developments in microbiology research and of the achievements of past students.

The return of his former colleague (at Aber) Iain Barber in 2022 as Head of the Department of Life Sciences brought Gareth great pleasure, not least because of their shared connection with Leicester University.

Gareth will be fondly remembered by former colleagues and students alike as a kind and gentle person, always generous with his time to give advice on scientific and other matters.


Hazel Davey and Gareth Griffith (Department of Life Sciences), with thanks to Paul Morris, David Hopper and Tony Pugh.