10 January 1940 – 18 February 2013
Godfrey Matthew Hewitt passed away at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, on the 18th February 2013 aged 73 years. He is greatly missed by his sons and their families: Daniel, Daphne, Sam and Emily; Matthew, Rukmal, Alex and Shannon; and James, Ellie, Simon, Poppy and Rowan; and by his sister Sybil and her family.
The funeral took place at St Thomas Church, Crown East, Worcester on 6th March 2013 at 2pm. In lieu of flowers please send any donations to The Dogs Trust, c/o Bewardine Funeral Services, 1 St John's, Worcester, WR2 5AE.
To leave your tribute to Godfrey, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
"His memory will live long and deep"
There was great sadness across BIO when we heard the news this week that our friend and colleague Godfrey Hewitt had passed away. Even in recent months, despite illness, Godfrey had been imparting wisdom, fun and straight-play to floor 01, and we really can't believe that he has gone.
Godfrey's memory will live long and deep in many biologists' minds. Although he had diverse interests and talents, his four latter loves were his family, his dog Zeke, his work, and his colleagues. Even after retirement, Godfrey made important contributions to life in BIO, so he gave us a very generous 45 year record, which started not long after UEA was born. As a teacher, good students found him hugely inspiring and great fun; even after his retirement he continued to deliver fact-packed lectures on evolution. Not one for airs and graces, Godfrey had time for undergrad, postgrad and professor alike. He probably had his best rapport with PhD students, in his own research group and beyond. His commonsense and generous supervisory skills were recognised by a highly esteemed Nature award for mentoring in science in 2006, and he has fathered a most impressive family of very very good biologists, who now continue his academic family.
His impact in the field of evolution and ecology is hard to over-state. I recall being asked a couple of years ago to comment for a media statement on a study that had found UEA to be number 3 in the UK for scientific impact in ‘environment and ecology'. We had certainly punched above our weight, but the big driver for our success turned out to be G.M. Hewitt who, in a parallel study, had come out number 3 IN THE WORLD for individual impact in ecology. Full of excitement, I tried to enthuse Godfrey with these modern metrics, and although he enjoyed reading the articles and dabbling with Web of Science to see which of his many papers had been most cited, his priority was on doing the right kind of very good science with the right kind of very good scientists, and that is the legacy he will leave. Many, including Fellows themselves, have said to me that Godfrey more than deserved the accolade of F.R.S., and I agree with them. He was instrumental in creating and advancing the hugely successful interdisciplinary field of ‘molecular ecology', appropriately winning the first ever Molecular Ecology Prize in 2005 for his contributions. He continued his editorial work with the field's very successful journal until just a few weeks ago, and his contributions are still emerging even now in important journals.
Among the sadness, everyone has remarked on how privileged and fortunate they feel to have known or worked with Godfrey, but he still had lots to give, and we will miss him.
Professor Matt Gage, School of Biological Sciences, UEA
"He was a great friend"
I will miss Godfrey, for many reasons. His academic achievements are outstanding, but his impact is not just to be found in print, but in the hearts of the people that knew him. He was a great friend, and loyal to those he worked with. People cared for him because he cared about them. I remember when my parents came to visit me from New Zealand and met Godfrey for the first time. Having told them about Godfrey, and his significance in the world of evolutionary biology, they were perhaps nervous, given their non-academic backgrounds. Needless to say any apprehension was gone very quickly. It wasn't my parents talking to Professor Godfrey M. Hewitt, it was my parents talking to their new friend Godfrey, who could laugh and joke and put anyone at ease. His loss is immense. But so is his legacy.
Dr Brent Emerson, School of Biological Sciences, UEA
"There is this grasshopper expert in Norwich..."
Godfrey returns, presumably weather-beaten and knackered, from a trek to the Pyrenees, hunting the mighty grasshopper. He arrives Dover Docks (long before Eurostar and the like) to be told by a callow Customs Officer to park his Landrover "over there" while authorities make a judgement on the wisdom/safety/legality of importing thousands of these little critters.
Godfrey fumes, saying that they will frazzle in the heat and demands that the Natural Museum be contacted, to confirm that these insects are no threat to national security. Reluctant officer makes the call, only to be told by the museum that "There is this grasshopper expert in Norwich, and he can give the most appropriate advice". On being informed of this news, Godfrey responds with some considered, polite observation. (I made that very last bit up - I believe that "words were exchanged").
Professor Andy Johnston, School of Biological Sciences, UEA
"It was his attitude... that was truly inspirational"
I knew Godfrey for the last five years of his life; I did my PhD at UEA, and Godfrey's office was a couple of doors down from ours. Whenever he came in (which he did whenever he was well enough) he would drop by for a chat before starting work. Sometimes he would talk to us for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour. No matter how busy we were we didn't mind. We often chatted about evolution, but also about human biology, the history of science, natural history, ancient human civilisations, politics and Godfrey's dog Zeke (who enjoyed our "meetings" more than anyone).
Godfrey knew a lot about a lot of things, but it was his attitude,
towards science and life in general, that was truly inspirational.
Lewis Spurgin, former UEA PhD Student
To read Lewis's full tribute to Godfrey, go to
"He could rein you in or egg you forward as required"
Godfrey's extraordinarily perceptive intuition for science, coupled with a photographic memory for the literature and personal anecdotes, and decades of experience at the highest academic level, made him at once a formidable questioner and a valuable source to be asked questions of. He would see through your science, and you, in an instant, and could rein you in or egg you forward as required. If you were stumped on something, he was always worth going to.
He will be missed.
Karl Phillips, PhD student, UEA
"He became an important mentor and then a great friend"
So sorry to hear of Godfrey's passing – we have been friends for a very long time. I am not sure when we first met, but I have fond memories of hanging out with Godfrey at the International Congress of Entomology in Vancouver (1988). I remember going on a long early morning run with him in Lausanne (we were there for a hybrid zone workshop). More recently, my wife and I stayed with Godfrey and Zeke in Norwich when we were there in 2010, and he joined my lab group for a dinner when we were all in Ottawa this past summer. When we first met, I was just making my way as an evolutionary geneticist and Godfrey was well established as an evolutionary biologist. He became an important mentor and then, as we both aged, a great friend. We shared an appreciation of straight talk (both social and intellectual) and a dislike of arrogance and pretense. Our interchanges and encounters were less frequent in recent years, but I feel very lucky to have had some quality time with Godfrey over the last few years.
Rick Harrison, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University
"A friend and inspiration... the memories are rich and endless"
Godfrey was so much more than a PhD supervisor or postdoc mentor, he was a friend and inspiration. My warmest thoughts are of the advice – whether requested or not – and support. At the interview for my PhD we seemed to end up talking about his son Matthew's chances for the Canaries youth team more than science, but he still somehow saw enough to take me on. Even then I remember people visiting the lab from overseas to see how Godfrey managed to run his lab so well. I especially recall one field trip when we collected Chorthippus along the Pyrenees, just the pair of us. He talked endlessly about how the hoppers got to such & such a place, to an extent that I put earphones on occasionally to get a break. My favourite memory is stopping for lunch in a meadow and he ate for five minutes, stood up and pointed at a slope with a half baguette and said ‘8,000 years ago the buggers'd be marching up there'. The memories are rich and endless. Thanks, Godfrey, I wouldn't be where I am without the confidence and support that you gave me.
Mike Ritchie, University of St Andrews
"I shall miss those random moments..."
While I have shared an academic roof with Godfrey for all of my time in the School of Biological Sciences, the paths on which we crossed were often not academic. My experience of Godfrey and his robust kindnesses was found beyond the University, I shall miss those random moments out on Marston Marshes when man meets dog and finds that the dog in question is Zeke, Godfrey's beloved terrier.
Dr Charles Brearley, School of Biological Sciences, UEA
"He taught me... about being a scientist"
I was a lecturer at UEA from 1984 to 1996 and counted Godfrey as a great friend and mentor. He taught me three things about being a scientist. First, study an important problem. Second, given that you are studying an important problem, you should be passionate in your defence of the value of study of this problem. Third, being passionate about science is not incompatible with being passionate about having fun whilst doing science.
Richard Oliver, Curtin University
"A mentor and a real friend"
I clearly remember the first time I met Godfrey 23 years ago. It was a typical Norwich, windy and chilly, October evening when, together with two Spaniard colleagues, we walked to his house at Camberley Road in Norwich as we were invited to Godfrey's for a welcome dinner in my honour. He cooked for us and for his friend Annie, who was also there. Annie checked me over through her thick glasses and asked polite questions about me in her French accent and I felt intimidated. She was a character Annie, I learned to like her very much. It was, however, only after a five-minute chat with Godfrey that I realised that going to BIO-UEA was the best decision I could have done for my research career. From the very first moment he made me feel welcome and prompted me to develop my capabilities. Godfrey was the perfect mentor as he gave you ample freedom and space to find your way, but at the same time he was positive and encouraging. When things were not working for me in the lab he just said "oh well...", always ready for a pint or 'two' in the pub and listen to what my problems were irrespective of their nature and keen to give help and advice. He was also an excellent communicator, but at the same time a good listener. During all these years I have always counted him as a real friend. His extended "family", dispersed throughout, over many different countries, will certainly miss him greatly.
Professor Carlos Juan, Universitat de les Illes Balears, Spain
"He treated us like his big science family"
Godfrey was one of a rare breed of truly great academics. He was passionate about research and also about inspiring and guiding other talents around him (although the occasional undergraduate who made the mistake of knocking on his door when the 'do not disturb' sign was up may disagree with me on that one). He was most proud of his three sons and his grandchildren and talked at length about his trips to Vermont.
He was a fantastic mentor and father figure for his research group and treated us like his big science family. His 2006 Nature lifetime achievement award for mentoring was highly deserved and when organising his retirement symposium in 2005 I was humbled by the sheer number of people who contacted me wanting to be involved or contribute in some way. Godfrey never sought to ingratiate himself within the 'right' political circles, or to court the media. Instead he believed that good science would speak for itself. It did. Godfrey is in the top three most highly cited ecology researchers in the world.
My own personal relationship with Godfrey started as one of naive PhD student slightly in awe (and terror) of my new supervisor, but quickly developed into respect and friendship. In the last few years Godfrey would come to visit me to enjoy fish and chips at my local, and the spectacle of Zeke chasing my chickens. 'He'll catch them and kill them, you know', he said with some pride, 'he's good like that.'
Godfrey, it was an honour to have known you and a true privilege to have worked with you.
Dr Alison Surridge, UEA PhD Student & Postdoc, 1994 - 2007
"A real gent..."
I first met Godfrey in the summer of 1992. I had just completed an 8-year commission in the Royal Navy and was tentatively embarking on a "second career" with Blackwell Scientific Publications as a commissioning editor in ecology. It was my first campus visit and my knowledge of academic publishing was fairly rudimentary. Knocking on that office door over 20 years ago, it was Godfrey who gave me my first experience of the commissioning editor role and the certainty that I was going to enjoy it. I have vague memories of our discussion ranging from military history to dogs, and a "by the way, I'm not going to write a book but I've got a few ideas". And so my journey began. I had the good fortune to sit next to Godfrey on a plane to Ottawa last year (he was attending what was to be his last major academic conference, the First Congress of Evolutionary Biology). We chatted for 7 hours and the time flew by in an instant. A real gent; I miss him.
Ian Sherman, Biology Science and Medicine, Oxford University Press
"We will remember his warmth and genuine interest in people"
Similar to Charles Brearley's tribute, Grant and I also shared those "random moments" with Godfrey as we lived in the same neighbourhood. We'd often bump into him as he was walking his dog and Godfrey always stopped for a chat. We will remember his warmth and genuine interest in people, his generosity, openness and sharing nature. He will be missed.
Professor Andrea Munsterberg & Dr Grant Wheeler, School of Biological Sciences, UEA
"Friend, mentor, and source of inspiration"
I feel so privileged to have bumped into Godfrey when I became a young lecturer at UEA in 1997. I remember meeting him before I was interviewed for the job, thinking "gosh it would be so fantastic to interact on a daily basis with a great evolutionary biologist like him", and then feeling so lucky that he was appointed as my "mentor" when I came to UEA. I cannot remember one time when I felt I could disagree with Godfrey's views of the world, he has been a true source of inspiration and I feel now I owe him a great debt as a man and as a scientist. Every aspect of my work today has to do with questions which were initially discussed with him, which he encouraged though his kind words. When I erred as a young lecturer, he was always so kind to provide me with the necessary guidance, helping me to understand what it meant to set up my own priorities. I still make my best to remembering his precious advices. He always cared about my family, which was so nice of him because he knew we were living far from our relatives, and he made us like Norfolk and Norwich.
He has always encouraged my attraction for oceanic islands being himself much dragged into island "stuff" even though he kept reminding me that a lot had already been done and that I needed to explore new questions, new ways of tackling old problems, not redo what others had done before.
When I came to UEA, I had a dream which was to discuss with Enrico Coen about Antirrhinum as a study system for evolutionary work; I mentioned this to Godfrey and the next day we were drinking tea with Rico who then became a lifelong collaborator. As for my interest in islands, Godfrey suggested I should talk to his new postdoc Brent Emerson; Brent and I have been friends and colleagues ever since.
Last summer, when we met in Ottawa, it was such a joy to find him in great shape, full of enthusiasm about the meeting, so obviously happy to discuss about life and also to inquire about our studies of hybrid zones which owe him so much. We also discussed a bit about France because Godrey was a true francophile, not only because he spent so much time searching for grasshoppers in the cold summers of the Pyrenees mountain passes, driving his caravan though narrow mountain roads and visiting now vanished little villages but also because he had a genuine interest in France and its people, with all their strengths and weaknesses. Many times, I found myself confounded by his superior knowledge and deep understanding of my own country's history and geography.
I will greatly miss him.
Christophe Thébaud, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse
"... he always had an informed and... passionate view"
This is a huge loss. Since getting to know Godfrey a bit over the last 6 years I came to be in awe of his skill, energy and engagement for enthusing and mentoring, and for science in general.
In our weekly seminars that he attended he always had an informed, and often also passionate, view on what was being said. Never one to let a flabby argument get past him he would test and probe, but in a generous way, and would draw upon his prodigious scholarship. It was often on the walk back to our offices after these sessions that some pithy verdict on the topic would be offered by Godfrey, followed by a few minutes of putting the world to rights. I miss that.
The photo below was taken one day in 2010 I think when we went for a local pub lunch. It is a really nice memory to look back on, with Godfrey and everyone on great form.
Godfrey seemed so indestructible that it is very hard to believe he won't be back. We will miss him hugely.
Professor Tracey Chapman, School of Biological Sciences, UEA
"Godfrey's priority was our welfare, first and foremost"
I worked in Godfrey's lab from 1993-1996 and here are a few of my random memories which have come to mind in recent weeks and brought a smile or laugh through the sadness. I hope some of you may identify with them.
Godfrey treated his research group (including past as well as present members) as a family. He had his idiosyncrasies – for example, when I arrived I bristled when addressed as ‘Love' – but I eventually began to see it as a term of endearment. Another comment I remember, when Godfrey was recollecting an official at border control: ‘You could tell he was a sensible fellow – you know, he had a beard….'
Godfrey would get very aggravated when England was losing at cricket, especially when ‘the other buggers were cheating – they do that, Love'.
If any of the female researchers in the group were struggling with issues ‘Keep an eye on her, Love. She doesn't want an old Duffer like me interfering'.
Godfrey looked forward with glee to our annual research group trip to the Norwich Beer Festival and it was imperative that the whole group should come. Not one left behind….…..Up until I arrived in Norwich I had made a point to avoid Beer Festivals, recalling only the disgustingly sticky floors and pools of unidentifiable liquid at my first university. To my surprise I loved the experience and continued to attend every year, and even develop a taste for beer! Just one of Godfrey's small successes!
At my first Population Genetics conference, my friend and I did not know which seminar to attend so we said ‘Let's follow ‘Dad' and go where he goes'. Then (very immaturely) we were trying to guess which door he would go through so we could follow. I remember an imperious voice behind us saying, ‘I don't think you two appreciate the high regard in which the rest of us hold Professor Hewitt'. We both said, ‘Me too, that's why we're going where he goes'. We may have been immature but I think the incident captures the way we all thought about Godfrey.
What a supervisor…Since leaving Godfrey's lab, whenever I have had responsibility for others I always recall Godfrey's strengths and style as a positive example. Managing people is no easy task, and managing a group of disparate and strong characters from a range of cultures and backgrounds, all of whom have their own priorities is harder yet. Godfrey's priority was our welfare, first and foremost. His attitude seemed to be that, if he picked individuals of a certain calibre and ensured our welfare, then high quality, meaningful academic output would naturally follow. Input and guidance could be adjusted as required for the individual and the stage of research.
Godfrey would often give what I call the ‘conspiratorial wink' as he passed us in the corridor. In my mind, it meant, ‘All fine? I know you are getting on with things. I'm here if you need me' – although I know there were other interpretations!
Goodbye Godfrey. Our loss is profound.
Dr Helen Vaughan, former research student, UEA
"An outstanding scientist"
Even early in his career, Godfrey had a reputation for writing successful grant applications that were, not surprisingly given his many later successes, very well argued, but also striking for the care with which every item of expenditure was fully justified – an approach that was not universal at the time. Over the following years I came to realise that he was an outstanding scientist with a particular ability to inspire his students and associates in research. The small notes that appeared on his door, indicating when and where he would be travelling in the following weeks were a particular delight, and an indirect measure of his international reputation. I enjoyed our conversations for his friendliness and liveliness, even when he was in hospital, where he continued to work on manuscripts using a small laptop computer.
Dr David Wilden, School of Biological Sciences, UEA
"Godfrey opened to me the gates of his lab, his house, and my mind"
Summer 1991, I did my first steps doing Science abroad in Godfrey's lab. Being only a young undergraduate, Godfrey opened to me the gates of his lab, his house, and my mind. I still remember the uplifting spirit Godfrey's created in every way, in Science as well as his commitment to the human wellbeing of the ones that came across him. Years later, in the course of my scientific career, remembering the positivity he filled his lab with help me to remedy from moments of disappointment. I am very grateful to him, owe him a lot and will always remember that welfare to others has to be one of the key to success in Science, with both short- and long-term effects. Farewell, dear Godfrey.
Frédéric Brunet, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France
"Godfrey's expressions are to be remembered, they are wise, funny and plain English"
I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Godfrey, of extending a journal club discussion into a conversation about science and life for the sake and joy of it. Those moments will always be one treasure of my years in England because it is thanks to them that he became part of my academic family, but also because he was an English-as-it-gets character. Most of the things he said faded from my brain before we got back to the office after a walk around UEA's lake, but maybe Zeke the dog remembers them all. I wrote down some of his expressions on the margins of printed papers that I not even tried to preserve, but I also wrote them down in my notebook, and going through them on the train back from his funeral made me visualise him once again as if we were chatting. Below are but a sample of his words.
Advice on science writing:
"You can always speculate with your friends and then be cautious when you publish."
"Be dead accurate whenever you can."
"Be careful with using the words 'alternative explanation'. Many papers say that there is a conflict where there is not. They are just tying to sell it."
General life advice:
"We are a sea-wave about to smash into the beach."
"Mother nature is a bitch."
During a chat on how politics and personal interests can get into science publishing:
"They are just people. And some people are dictators and some are nurses. We have the whole range in science too."
"Bullocks. That's a nasty English word, but I'm using it."
"Only history will know, and it will lie."
Once we were discussing a paper with a cool new method:
"If I were a young person I will be doing this… and better."
And to finish, a great one after he review a draft I gave him:
"Don't worry, were are going to take this and transform it into English."
My full tribute to him can be read here: http://ticatla.blogspot.ch/2013/03/godfrey-hewitt.html
Alicia Mastretta-Yanes, PhD Student, UEA
"The world in general is poorer without him"
Godfrey had a big influence not only on the way I think about Biology, but also on how I think science should be done, both through my (too few) interactions with him, and through his scientific descendants, from whom I've also learnt so much.
The last time I saw Godfrey was at SSE/ESEB in Ottawa in July. He'd set up camp upstairs with his laptop amidst the (now empty) poster session, while the huge throng chatted and ate downstairs. He was reviewing Fellowship applications, and – where applicants hadn't added impact factors or citations numbers on their CVs – was looking up their publications on ISI and adding them on their behalf, so they could be most fairly appraised. This was clearly taking him a long time. While touched, I remember saying that so few reviewers would be as kind as to do this, it could make a difference to maybe only one fellowship out of all those offered. I also remember his reply: "in that case, it will make a difference to one of them". This was typical of his passion for fairness, honesty and rigour. We then talked for a long time about science, history, politics, and poetry. Also typical of time spent with Godfrey.
On another occasion Godfrey asked how I was getting on – and I said something like "not bad, it's great to have good people working for you", and he was quick to correct me: "working with you Jon – that's very important". I felt embarrassed because (partly because of him) that distinction is something I'm usually very clear to make myself. I must have panicked (!). Science, the scientific community, and the world in general is poorer without him.
Jon Bridle, University of Bristol
'He will be greatly missed...'
I am sure he will be greatly missed. The few hours I spent with him during a PhD viva at UEA were very memorable, I was hugely impressed by his kindness and sense of humour.
Carlos Garcia de Leaniz, Swansea University