Dr Ray Hance passed away

Obituary Raymond (‘Ray’) Hance

Ray Hance passed away on 22nd January 2022 after a long illness, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP).  He suffered from this relentless neurological condition for approximately 5 years, but until the last few months had a reasonable quality of life.  He was 86.  His funeral was held on 8 February 2022 at the North Oxfordshire Crematorium and Memorial Park, Tackley Kidlington, UK.

Ray was born in 1936 and was an only child — his father was a policeman and his mother a secretary — and attended Selhurst Grammar School in south London.  Like many of his generation, Ray became the first of his family to go to university, graduating from Reading with a BSc in Agricultural Chemistry in 1958 and subsequently gaining a PhD from Aberdeen University.

After spending a year as a research fellow in Soil Science at Aberdeen University, Ray moved to the Weed Research Organisation (WRO), near Oxford, where he was leader of the Chemistry Section for over 20 years, from start of operations in December 1962 until closure of WRO in 1986.  From small beginnings, this section expanded steadily under Ray’s leadership, to eventually comprise over 20 scientific and support staff.  The Chemistry section had the task of developing analytical procedures for the determination of herbicides in plants and soil and then employing them in studies with other sections at WRO.  In addition, the Section undertook research programmes on the physico-chemical behaviour of herbicides in soil – a subject fundamental to their reliable and safe use.  This was a ‘golden age’ for herbicide research, with a constant stream of new active ingredients being marketed and WRO, with a total staff of 150, comprised the largest concentration of independent weed and herbicide research scientists globally.  Studies of the environmental impact of pesticide use did not have the high profile they have now.  Ray Hance’s team laid the groundwork for much subsequent research.

The research of Ray’s section was of relevance internationally and he made frequent visits overseas.  In 1968/69 he spent 6 months working at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, and University of Wisconsin, USA, to widen his experience.  Later, Ray was in demand as a consultant and he travelled widely, for example to the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and to Vietnam to study the after effect of the extensive use of defoliants, both visits on behalf of the US National Academy of Sciences.  He also worked in the planning section of the Agricultural Research Council headquarters in London for two years.  He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1979. 

His extensive publication record, comprising over 100 published papers and many books, is a permanent testament to his research achievements.  For example, in 1990, he co-authored (with Keith Holly) the 8th edition of the Weed Control Handbook (Volume 1): Principles, a key and widely cited reference book.  He also co-authored the 1991 edition of the Pesticide Manual, with Charles Worthing.  

But it was not all work — WRO provided Ray with a wife, Mollie, who was his boss’s secretary. Their daughter, Fiona was born in 1967.

After the closure of WRO in 1986, Ray had a steady part time job as Chairman of the Editorial Board of Weed Research but he supplemented his income by working for many chemical companies, acting as an expert witness on occasion.  He also worked for the University of Oviedo in Spain and the Forschungszentrum Jülich Research Institute in Germany which dealt with nuclear techniques in agriculture.

From early 1991 to 1998 Ray worked for the United Nations in Vienna as Head of the Agrochemicals and Residues Section of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division.  One of the more interesting programmes Ray worked on was to represent FAO interests in managing the consequences to agriculture of radioactive contamination following the nuclear accident in Chernobyl.  He made visits until he was 70 years old, on behalf of the UN, to many parts of the world, mostly in South America, Africa and China.

Ray was a very active member of the European Weed Research Society (EWRS) being Secretary of the Society’s Scientific Committee from 1982-1993 as well Chairman of the Editorial Board of Weed Research from 1985-1994.  In 1999, a Brief History of the European Weed Research Society (EWRS) and its precursor, the European Weed Research Council (EWRC) was written by Ray together with Wybo van der Zweep, Secretary EWRC 1960-75 and Scientific Secretary EWRS 1975-80.  This 5-pages document about Ray’s great personal interest in the history of the EWRS is kept in the files of the EWRS Heritage Committee.  Due to the outstanding contributions Ray gave to the Society, he was made an Honorary Member of EWRS in 1997.

Outside of work, Ray was a successful sportsman, always pushing himself to achieve the highest standard he could.  He played cricket for Aberdeenshire and Scottish Universities and at rugby he was captain of the Oxford City 1st team and played for Oxfordshire and the Southern Counties, once memorably against the Australian touring side.  When he could no longer compete at the level he wanted, at the age of 46, he took up running.  He ran 23 marathons, winning one at Leighton Buzzard, and his best time was a very creditable 2 hours 38 minutes.  He also enjoyed cycling and skiing and, in retirement, enjoyed walking and running with the Woodstock Harriers. He also accompanied Mollie, possibly slightly reluctantly, to watch opera at famous venues in Sydney, New York, and Dresden as well as Glyndebourne in the UK.

Ray may have come over to many who met him as a rather private, even dour individual.  However, behind that façade was a man who ‘worked hard’ and ‘played hard’ and really lived life to the full, as the above account testifies.

Compiled by Stephen Moss based on the obituary (written by Mollie Hance) presented at Ray’s funeral, with additional input from Peter Lutman, Bob Froud-Williams and Ted Cotterill, former colleagues of Ray at WRO.