UBC, 1964, BSc, Agriculture


“I had emigrated from Ireland in 1955 to BC, where I spent several years in Kitimat. I eventually got a job as a technician with Canada Forestry in Victoria in 1961. My interest in agriculture prompted me to write to Dean Blythe Eagles seeking entry to the Agricultural Faculty. Although not fully qualified, the Dean admitted me as an occasional student. I took a math course at evening school at Victoria College and, at the same time, several grade 12 subjects by correspondence. Thus, with these credits and credits from previous agricultural courses in the UK, I entered UBC in 1962 at age 29 and graduated BSc Agr in 1964.

The courses covered gave me a good grounding in agriculture, and people like Jake Biely, Beryl March, Warren Kitts and Alex Wood made a great impression on me. My interests were largely in animal production, although I enjoyed courses by Dr Brink in agronomy, pasture science etc. Chemistry, biochemistry and microbiology were key courses and they formed a very solid foundation for Agricultural Science. We were located in the old agriculture building next to the bus stop and coffee shop. As I was married with a son, I had to work during the summer and study. I lived in a house in Westbrook on the campus. Alex Woods took an interest in me and he persuaded me to work with him as a graduate student. These two years were a great experience. On Saturday mornings we would go down to the barn to muck out the beef cattle pens, and I suppose today this would be considered to be a form of bonding between other postgraduate colleagues and our supervisor. I was fortunate to get a BC Sugar Refinery award and this helped my financial situation greatly. During my first year I took courses in math and in zoology with Dr Hoare, who was an excellent teacher. Dr Wood gave us offices in the old barn across from the cow barn, and we met many of his colleagues from other faculties. There was interest in wildlife, and there were students studying caribou, mountain lions, deer, mountain goats etc. Dr McTaggart-Cowan, head of Zoology would visit us and Harold Norden helped Dr Wood supervise graduate students in wildlife.

I worked with mink and was attempting to develop a water-soluble slow-release vitamin B1 since there was a thiaminase in fish so that the mink became thiamine deficient. This was a small undergraduate project, but mink were also the subject of my master’s dissertation.

After my first year in postgraduate studies, Dr Woods was offered the position as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science at the then new University of Victoria. Three postgraduates in Animal Science went with him to Victoria; Peter Cheeke, Walter Carlson and myself. There I continued to take courses, one of which was physical organic chemistry. AJ always made his students take a course in physical chemistry; if you passed the course you had passed the most formidable obstacle of your postgraduate studies.

AJ had one evening loaded a rented truck with key laboratory equipment, borrowed from his own laboratory at UBC and without permission, and drove it to Victoria. We were then able to continue our research there. Mine was on mink nutrition. These I had in cages in the radio shack on the old campus. AJ was extremely busy but he always made time to speak to us and give advice. His main interest was in energy metabolism and his bible was Brody’s “Bioenergetics and Growth”. This area has also been a lifelong interest of mine. I built a respiration chamber for my master’s research and I was the first, outside Russia, to measure the basal metabolism of mink. I was the last of the group to leave Victoria. Peter Cheeke went to Oregon State University where he completed a PhD with Jim Oldfield, another of Dr Wood’s postgraduates. Peter has had a distinguished career on Faculty at OSU. Walter went cattle ranching close to Prince George. I was awarded a postgraduate fellowship to undertake a PhD at the University of New England in Australia but not before Dr Wood gave me a temporary and well-paid position as a Research Fellow until I left in late December 1966. This allowed me to purchase the boat fares for my family and myself to Sydney. We arrived there on January 1, 1967.

I was acutely aware of the importance of publishing research findings. Dr Wood always said your research is not completed until it is published. From my master’s work we published three papers in the Canadian Journal of Zoology on “the nutrition of the female mink”. AJ was not prepared to submit these to the Canadian Journal of Animal Science, because one of the editors was in the Agricultural Faculty at UBC and was not a friend of AJ. This was my first introduction to the politics of science and the politics of university life.

My study at Armidale was on grazing sheep and a great challenge, as I knew little about ruminants. My postgraduate experience at UBC stood me in good stead and after only one year I had finished my field research, but I took a further two years to write it up as I had been appointed a temporary lecturer in the Faculty of Rural Science, at the age of 36. In 1970 I submitted my thesis and my position became permanent.

I soon realized that ruminant research, particularly in sheep, was overserviced in Australia, and I immediately switched to swine. At the same time, I built three respiration chambers and started a long-time interest in poultry research. But I also became interested in human nutrition. I published papers on dietary fibre and most recently on the benefits of the omega 3 fatty acids in enriched eggs when eaten by humans. Both have been highly fashionable topics.

In 1973 I was awarded a fellowship to spend a study leave at the Rowett Research Institute, Scotland, then directed by Dr (later Sir) Kenneth Blaxter, a distinguished scientist. In 1983 I spent two and a half years in Indonesia with the Department of Foreign Affairs managing research projects there. This led to further work on foreign aid development and consulting in Asia, South Africa, China, South America, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 1983 I was awarded a Doctor of Rural Science degree for my contribution to research, and in 1991 a personal chair in Nutrition at the University of New England. In the past 30 years or so I have supervised about 35 postgraduate students, my first being Michael Ivan now a distinguished scientist with Canada Agriculture at Lethbridge. My publication list exceeds 400. So I have taken Dr Wood’s advice seriously.

In early 1994 I moved to The University of Queensland, to take up a position in The School of Land and Food Sciences, as well as a half-time position as Director of the reformed Queensland Poultry Research and Development Centre. I retired in 1998.

In retrospect, I and many of my colleagues have worked through the golden years of university times, where there was great opportunity to succeed and achieve and this depended very much on the efforts of the individual. I am now devoting more and more of my time to writing a book about my brother who was a distinguished but highly controversial Irish artist and about some of my own experiences.

I look back on my days at UBC as highly productive times and where I was given a very good grounding in Agricultural Science and I was introduced to several subjects that one would not normally take in such a degree course. But I remember best of all my mentor Dr A J Wood, a great personality, a highly underrated scientist and scholar, and a man who helped to shape my professional career.”

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