Godfrey M. Hewitt (1940–2013), President of ESEB 1999–2001
Version of Record online: 9 APR 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2013 European Society For Evolutionary Biology
Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Volume 26, Issue 4, pages 691–692, April 2013
How to Cite
Ritchie, M. G. and Butlin, R. K. (2013), Godfrey M. Hewitt (1940–2013), President of ESEB 1999–2001. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 26: 691–692. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12153
- Issue online: 9 APR 2013
- Version of Record online: 9 APR 2013
Godfrey Hewitt died on 18 February 2013. He has had a major impact on evolutionary biology through his influential research and scholarship and, at least equally, through the enthusiastic and selfless support he gave to his fellow scientists at all stages of their careers.
Godfrey completed his PhD on grasshopper cytogenetics under the supervision of Barney John at the University of Birmingham in 1962 and then held a Fulbright fellowship with Ledyard Stebbins and Robert Allard in California for 2 years. He took up a lectureship at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and stayed there for the remainder of his career, although he made productive exchange visits, notably to Australia, Hawaii and China. He published over 200 research papers covering empirical studies, methods and theory, as well as highly influential reviews. The impact of his research can be seen in citations (around 16 000 citations, an H-index > 50) and in the expansion of research on hybrid zones, phylogeography and speciation in the last few decades. In 2005, he was awarded the Molecular Ecology prize for his contribution to the field (Butlin et al., 2006), and there is an irony in him passing during the centenary celebrations of Alfred Russell Wallace's death: it could easily be argued that Godfrey is the most influential British biogeographer since Wallace, and he was awarded the Darwin–Wallace medal in this centenary year of Wallace's death. Unfortunately, he died before being able to collect this.
Godfrey was interested in spatial and temporal patterns in the distribution of organisms and their genes, and in the processes that have shaped them. He was particularly fascinated by the role of changing distributions in the origin of reproductive barriers and hence species. He produced extremely important work on the structure of hybrid zones, the role of recent ice ages in shaping biogeography and species interactions and the importance of hybridization in evolution. His reviews of the changes in organismal distribution induced by Pleistocene glacial cycles and the effect of repeated rounds of climate change on patterns of variation within species are citation classics. Seeing how ‘genes change in space and time’ was one of his mantras. Although Orthoptera remained especially close to his heart, he worked on a remarkable range of systems and seemed to have an in-depth knowledge of the geographic distributions of most organisms on all continents, the result of voluminous reading and tireless editorial work. Godfrey's research career spanned the molecular revolution: he quickly saw the potential of new methods and was a major contributor to the incorporation of molecular approaches into phylogeography and the assessment of patterns of gene flow. He hosted a multitude of young researchers in his laboratory when this field was developing, always encouraging them to follow their own instincts.
Beyond his direct scientific output, Godfrey will be remembered for his contribution to the field through mentoring researchers in his group and helping anyone who came to him for advice or encouragement. His PhD students and postdocs have gone on to become a disproportionate component of the research community in the UK, Europe and elsewhere. He was certainly as proud of the success of his ‘academic offspring’ as he was of his research achievements. He provided a wealth of enthusiastic advice, encouragement and knowledge to other researchers all over the world. The impact he made in developing evolutionary genetics in countries that did not have a rich history in the area is impossible to quantify. His influence throughout Europe led to his appointment as President of ESEB from 1999 to 2001. The number of researchers he mentored was remarkable and was recognized in 2006 when he was awarded the Nature/NESTA prize for creative mentoring (Dennis & Wright, 2006). Those of us who had the privilege to work with Godfrey are often asked by colleagues, ‘What was Godfrey's trick, how did he manage to produce so many successful people?’ His own answer was a characteristic shrug and a discussion about the importance of simply providing an appropriate atmosphere in which people can discuss ideas, leading by example and above all remaining enthusiastic about the biology. He disliked large egos and thought that people worked best in teams. We are sure that to anyone who experienced them, his Friday lunch time ‘lab chat’ discussions remain a model of a productive research atmosphere. More than anything else, he encouraged young researchers to look at problems from their own perspective and he backed them to the hilt when they took their ideas out into the world.
Godfrey will be missed by very many throughout the evolutionary biology community, but his legacy will ensure that his influence remains for decades to come. He was first diagnosed with serious cancer almost 10 years ago but he successfully overcame the immediate threat and enjoyed a productive last few years. During that time, he continued to research and publish, advise and encourage researchers, and participate in meetings with enthusiasm (including the Ottawa Congress just last year). However, a recurrence of cancer was finally too much. He loved poetry and is probably unique in publishing a poem alongside an abstract to a scientific paper. He never went anywhere quietly and raged against the dying of the light. He will be remembered fondly by the numerous Evolutionary Biologists he influenced.