Friday, January 04, 2008

UNE Passings - deaths of Dr David Evans, Professor Rod Gerber



Photo: Dr David Evans, 1979

Browsing the UNE web site I realised that I had missed the deaths of two people who will be well known to different UNE generations. The material that follows is largely drawn from the UNE web site.

David Evans who died on 21 September 2007 will be well known to UNE students from the 1950s through to the 1990s. He was certainly a familiar figure to me as both an undergraduate and later postgraduate student, although I did not do English.

Born in Goulburn in 1937, he came to UNE as an undergraduate in 1954 – the year the University obtained its autonomy from the University of Sydney.

He went on to gain a UNE Arts degree with First Class Honours in English, and then a Diploma of Education from Armidale Teachers' College, finishing Dux of the Teachers' College in 1959.

After several years of teaching at Maitland Boys' High School he joined the staff of UNE's English Department and quickly rose to the level of Senior Lecturer, gaining his PhD from UNE in 1967. His passion for Early English literature took him to the UK for several periods of sabbatical study, while, back in the UNE lecture room, he was able to share that passion – particularly his love of Chaucer – with his students, becoming life-long friends with many of them.

Typical of his engagement with the University and Armidale communities was his voluntarily-assumed role as mentor and friend of Indonesian students and their families. Starting from a desire to alleviate the difficulties of living within an unfamiliar culture, this role led him to become fluent in Indonesian and to spend his evenings at the residential colleges helping Indonesian and other overseas students with their written work. He is remembered as having transformed the lives of these students and their families over two generations.

UNE's continuing reputation as a welcoming place for students from other cultures and countries rests on the continuing work of people like David.

Always a believer in the value of strong social networks within the University community, he was, as a student, a founding (non-residential) member of Wright College, UNE's original residential college, and was appointed a Non-resident Fellow of Earle Page College in 1968.

Even as a schoolboy David had drawn and painted. He developed this talent in adulthood, producing an impressive body of work that includes paintings and drawings in a variety of styles and with a wide range of subject-matter, as well as illuminated manuscripts inspired by medieval art.

Over four years in the 1980s he worked on what is perhaps his artistic masterpiece – a hand-written and illustrated text of the Old English epic Beowulf. That unique book is on display – along with many other works of his – in the Uralla gallery ("Chaucer on Bridge Street") that he opened in 2000 and managed until his death on the 21st of September 2007.

His belief in the vital role of art in the community led him to become a driving force behind the establishment of the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) in Armidale. As well as his vision and enthusiasm, he lent his creative talents to the project: for example, by donating the proceeds from the sale of one of his published books of poems to the NERAM fund.

David Evans is survived by his wife Helen, their three children Michael, Peter and Jenny, and three grandchildren.


Photo: From left, Catherine and Michelle Gerber with UNE's Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Services), Eve Woodberry. The portrait of Professor Gerber by Don Gentle shown in the photo is to hang in a meeting room on the top floor of UNE's Education Building to be officially named "The Rod Gerber Meeting Room".

Rod Gerber, the distinguished geographer, teacher, and academic administrator died on 22 August 2007.

Professor Gerber was Dean of the Faculty of Education, Health and Professional Studies at UNE from 1995 to 2002. His colleagues and students remember him as a leader who was at once inspiring and compassionate – a "people person" whose generosity of spirit informed his work as both mentor and administrator.

He was recognised internationally as a leader in the field of geography education, and had more than 200 publications (including books, journal articles and reports) to his credit. However, in the words of Associate Professor John Lidstone from Queensland University of Technology, perhaps his greatest achievements were in "his support and help for others to achieve great things". "The academic world is often a hard one in which to maintain a cool head – much less a sense of compassion," Dr Lidstone said, "but Rod built a solid reputation around the world for being considerate and supportive of others."

At UNE, Professor Gerber was heavily involved in financial management, staff development, research leadership through the development of research centres, academic leadership of a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, community development projects, international partnerships, and international professional organisation leadership.

He also managed the Oorala Aboriginal Centre and the UNE Heritage Centre, and was a leader in international partnerships that successfully delivered UNE courses in Vietnam, Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, China, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji and Indonesia. Professor Gerber's work helps explain why UNE continues to rank in the top group of Australian Universities for indigenous access.

The adjectives "generous" and "inspiring" are common to many of the tributes to Rod Gerber that former colleagues and students have penned since his death. One of these characterises him as "a person who turned loose networks of people into small families". Another speaks of his "unfailingly encouraging words". And another reads: "Rod will always be remembered as a dear friend and co-researcher, knowledgeable but humble, and able to work closely to produce results."

Rod Gerber is survived by his wife Michelle and their children Andrew, Elizabeth and Catherine. Michelle Gerber, with her daughter Catherine, have donated a portrait of Professor Gerber by local artist Don Gentle to the University, and made an endowment that will allow the University to honour her husband's name by the annual provision of a scholarship – the "Rod Gerber Memorial Scholarship for a Higher Degree Research Student in the Faculty of The Professions".

The portrait of Professor Gerber is to hang in a meeting room on the top floor of UNE's Education Building to be officially named "The Rod Gerber Meeting Room" at an opening ceremony on Monday 18 February 2008. Rod Gerber's son Andrew, and UNE VC Professor Alan Pettigrew, will speak at this event.

1 comment:

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