REX ASHLEY WALFORD OBE, 14 February 1934–2 January 2011


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[ Rex Walford in Frigiliana, Spain
Photograph from Wendy Walford, reproduced with kind permission ]

Rex Walford was a teacher, a natural enthusiast, a leading international name in geography education, a long-serving Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and one of the first group of Chartered Geographers. Born in Edgware, Middlesex in 1934, he studied at the London School of Economics from 1952 until 1955 and at King's College London from 1955 until 1958. He gained a PGCE and Bachelor of Divinity degree from King's College in 1958 and started his teaching career as Head of Geography at St Mary's C of E School, Hendon. He was the Principal Lecturer in Geography and Senior Tutor at Maria Grey College Twickenham from 1962 until 1973.

Rex joined the University of Cambridge as Lecturer in Geography and Education in 1973 and retired from full-time employment as Head of the Department of Education in 1999. His association with the University of Cambridge continued until his death and demonstrated why the word ‘retirement’ really had no meaning when applied to him. He had been made a Fellow of Wolfson College in 1988 and was an Emeritus Fellow from 1999. He was Director of Studies at Emmanuel and King's Colleges and lectured at the Institute of Continuing Education at Madingley Hall, with his ever popular arts courses planned into 2011.

Rex supported the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in many ways over more than 25 years. He was the first Vice President (Education) from 1996 to 1999, simultaneously chairing the Society's Education Committee. He was among the first small group of holders of Chartered Geographer from 2002. Rex received the Society's Back Award in 1990 for his contribution to geographical education. He received an OBE in the New Years' Honours List of 2000 for ‘contributions to geographical scholarship’.

Rex was very involved in his time as Vice President with the Society's strategic development. He worked closely with a small group of Fellows to form the Society's first strategy document in 1996–7 and was influential in shaping its education focus. He was involved in the appointment of the Society's first Education Officer in 1999. He was a key part of an active Executive Committee and it is from his contribution that the Society's education work has developed its current modern form.

Rex was a significant player in many aspects of the Society's work. He was a keen supporter of well considered change. He had a belief in the Society moving into new areas. He strongly supported the changes that the current Director, Dr Rita Gardner, has led to make the Society much more relevant for those working in school geography. Dr Gardner states that ‘without his enthusiasm and belief in the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and its education role, I think the development of that area would have been a longer process’.

His support of the Chartered Geographer (C Geog) programme epitomised his belief in the subject and its professional development through nurturing and supporting less experienced geographers working in various fields. He had been involved since the programme's inception. He was one of five Final Assessors. His work in this role was considerable and his interventions always helpful, thought provoking and guaranteed to move matters forward. He always combined his invaluable presence at the biannual Final Assessors' Meeting with attendance at the Assessors' Meeting later in the same day, to meet and support the professional geographers who voluntarily give their time to be involved in the scheme.

Rex's first publication Games in Geography is still on the book shelves of many geography teachers who trained 30 years or more ago. It is one of those rare volumes that remains as relevant now as when it was written in 1969. It helped move school geography from ‘the humdrum catalogue of descriptive material’ (in Rex's own words) to be innovatory and include new procedures and methods that were a spur to real learning and shook the subject from its post-war lethargy.

Rex was a polymath. He defied Dr Samuel's Johnson's adage that ‘most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together’. Rex straddled different worlds effortlessly and elegantly. He was equally at ease in the world of schools and higher education. He was a governor of the Meridian School, Royston for 22 years and Vice Chair of Governors for 8 years. He served the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and the Geographical Association (where he was President from 1983 until 1984) with equal distinction. He was an internationally renowned geographer and distinguished himself in the world of the arts in equal measure. He was a member from 1970 of the Council of the Guild of Drama Adjudicators of Great Britain, Co-founder of the Cameo Theatre Company and Chair of the Cambridge Drama Festival. He was a Trustee of the Frederick Soddy and L Dudley Stamp Trusts. He wrote a highly successful play about the aviatrix Amy Johnson ‘Amy Wonderful Amy’ which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1989 and more recently at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge.

Rex will be remembered for his endless curiosity in things geographical. His commitment to lifelong learning knew no bounds. He gained a PhD from Anglia Ruskin University in 2003. He contributed throughout his life to the transformation of the teaching of geography in schools to make it relevant, challenging and rigorous, and continued this work until the end of his life. He bridged the world of geography in higher education and schools by making it fun, intellectually challenging and important.

Rex was a talented and brilliant teacher who enthused and inspired all those he taught. He had endless energy, extraordinary humanity and a huge heart. He transformed the teacher education course at Cambridge to be practical and active, and ground-breaking. He alerted successive generations of teachers to the relevance, excitement and importance of the discipline they taught. To those who had the privilege of working with him, most memorable will be his sense of humour and his inspiring ability to engage, stimulate and challenge. He will be remembered as an extraordinary man with an infectious enthusiasm, warmth, dynamism and intellect.

Rex Walford drowned in the River Thames at Shepperton, Middlesex on 2 January 2011. He is survived by his wife Wendy. A service of thanksgiving for his life was conducted at Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire on 16 February 2011.