About the University of Leicester

Marian Whitaker

The University has learned, with sadness, of the death of Mrs Marian Edna Whitaker, who passed away on 12 December 2022, aged 94.

Aftab Khan, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, writes:

Marian was the widow of Dr John Harry McDonald Whitaker (affectionately known as Mac Whitaker), the first geologist to be appointed by the new University of Leicester as it started a major phase of expansion in the middle of the last century. Young staff, including myself, with young families were being recruited to a city which was only known as a name on road signs on the M1. Marian was an early member of the University Wives Club, set up with her great friend Jean Humphreys (wife of Arthur, the first Professor of English and Public Orator) to welcome, help, and advise new arrivals to the University on matters like housing, schools, absences of staff on research and teaching in the field.  They also had their own meeting programme. 

Mac did landmark geological research as a founder member of the Ludlow Research Group which included experts from several universities. Marian was strongly supportive of Mac in this and other field interests in many parts of the world. The support to Mac and his young colleagues was crucial in the development of a Department of Geology which was ranked as being one of the three outstanding ones in the country by the 1980s. 

Marian had accompanied Mac on field work and conferences at home and overseas, notably to Norway, the USA and Japan. Her house was open to staff, wives and students. It was full in 1972 for the showing of the Nigel Calder three-hour television epic The Restless Earth in which the Department figured briefly while exploring the geological structure and history of Cyprus. 

Marian also entertained external speakers who came to the Student Society. Notable among these was Sir David Attenborough who grew up on the campus as his father was the Principal during World War 2. Mac was Sir David’s geology tutor when he was a student at Cambridge. He often stayed with Mac and Marian on visits to Leicester. 

Marian attended University functions and learnt about the problems of students. She endowed the annual Whitaker Awards to support students with imaginative projects and made efforts to meet the selected students to hear about their findings. She was also active outside the University. When Idi Amin expelled the Asians from Uganda, many families came to Leicester and for years afterwards Marian volunteered to visit some at their homes to help them to settle while they learnt to speak English. 

After Mac died in 2001 Marian maintained her connections with the Department. From time to time, she and her sole surviving son Peter embellished the Whitaker Award fund for supporting student projects.  

Marian had developed a taste for travel with Mac and continued to do so with SAGA as her mobility was affected by back trouble for many years.  We were both season ticket holders for the Philharmonia concerts and travelled together as she no longer liked to drive at night. More interestingly, she developed a passionate interest in opera and usually attended the performances from the major opera houses in the world relayed to the Phoenix or the Showcase Cinema.

Marian will be remembered as a caring, cheerful, wise, cultured, University wife and donor. She will be sadly missed by her friends and neighbours as well as her family.

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