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Obituary: Professor Sam Berry

20 April 2018

Professor Sam Berry with his wife, Caroline

Professor Sam Berry with his wife, Caroline

Julia Cameron writes:

PROFESSOR Sam Berry was one of the most eminent biologists of his generation, and widely known as a Christian apologist. He held the chair in genetics at University College, London, from 1974 to 2000.

His first book on science and faith was a short defence of theistic evolution, Adam and the Ape (IVP, 1975), from an Evangelical stance. After this would follow many books, both academic and more accessible, including two which he edited, True Scientists, True Faith and Christians and Evolution: Christian scholars change their mind (Books, 8 May 2015). His lasting contribution to apologetics was recognised in the 1996 Templeton UK Award for his “sustained advocacy of the Christian faith in the world of science”. In his academic career, he was described by UCL as “a massive figure in evolutionary and ecological genetics, biodiversity, and conservation biology”. His final book, Environmental Attitudes through Time (Cambridge University Press), will be published at the end of this month.

Robert James Berry, who died on Maundy Thursday, grew up in Preston. He acquired his nickname at Shrewsbury School, where his Lancashire accent inspired comparisons to Stanley Holloway’s Sam Small. From here he went up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and was active in the CICCU (Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union). Through this he met Oliver Barclay, a zoologist working for the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, and was drawn into Barclay’s network of what would become Christians in Science. Sam was a popular speaker in Christian Unions, and part of the awakening of Christian responsibility for the environment, which emerged in the 1970s.

From Cambridge he pursued his doctorate at University College, London. In 1958, he married Caroline Elliott, whom he had got to know through St Paul’s, Onslow Square. Both would have long careers in London: Sam at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, then at UCL; Caroline, as a clinical geneticist in Guy’s Hospital.

Sam was President of the Linnean Society, the British Ecological Society, the European Ecological Foundation, and Christians in Science. He was elected Fellow of both the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Society of Biologists, and gave the 1997-98 Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. He served on the General Synod for several terms from its inception in 1970, and its then Board of Social Responsibility. He was a founder member of the A Rocha Council of Reference. Sam wore his achievements lightly, and will be remembered for his smile and genuine interest in people.

In the 1980s, he recognised a critical gap in systematic biological recording. Rallying help from others, he was able to give clear recommendations for guidelines to be set in place. These would enable data to be used for comparison and analysis.

Sam’s research on mice took him all over the world, and he became a world authority on island mice populations, but he was fondest of the islands around the coast of Britain. Family holidays would often include research and hill-walking — he bagged over a hundred Munros.

The Berrys moved to Sevenoaks in 1963, where Sam was a Reader and PCC member at St Nicholas’s.

He leaves his wife, three children, and two grandchildren.

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