Durham University

Department of Geography

News Archive

We are very sorry to announce the recent death of Michael Drury

(10 April 2006)

Michael Drury was a Lecturer in the Department from 1967 until his retirement in 1997.

The following is a eulogy by Professor Ray Hudson on the occasion of Michael’s funeral on 22nd March 2006. Almost everybody from the department staff, past and present, academic and support, who had known Michael was there.

“Mike Drury was a quite remarkable individual. We are gathered here today to mourn him and extend our heartfelt sympathies to Linda and Ben but also to celebrate a life of rich and varied achievements. So it’s a day of mixed emotions, and not ones that are always easily put into words.

The fact that so many people are here, often travelling great distances to be here, is testimony to the high regard in which Mike is held, the affection that many people have for him. And it is worth adding that some of his former colleagues from Durham who aren’t here today are absent for a reason that he’d heartily approve of – as they’re off on fieldcourses with students, teaching them in the field, something Mike loved to do. He was a great leader and organiser of field-courses, taking students to Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain - and I’ll say a little more about this in a moment.

Mike was born in Hull in 1941, in the middle of the blitz – and in fact was lucky to survive as his parents’ house was destroyed by a bomb. His father, like Mike an only child, died of TB when Mike was three. Mike went to school in Hull and while there he became a sergeant major in the cadet corps – which, though he wasn’t then to know it, would turn out to be good training for dealing with students later in life! He was also set an initiative test of delivering a Xmas card from the Mayor of Hull to the Mayor of Aberdeen in a day – which he did via hitch-hiking! This turned out to be a foretaste of his great penchant for travel.

Mike actually became a geographer by accident – and how lucky for so many people that he did! Originally he wanted to go to Reading University to read for a degree in Landscape Gardening, but the course was cancelled because of lack of demand. So Mike took a year off and went round the Baltic as a merchant seaman on a German tramp steamer and then headed off to the far west of Wales, to Aberystwyth to read Geography, where he graduated with a first class honours degree – then a rare achievement. .

And it was while there that his long love affair with Greece began, following a field trip to the small island of Anaphe, near to Sifnos in the Aegean. Shortly afterwards, in 1965, Mike decided to base his own research on population movement in Sifnos, making the first of what were to be many trips there. He made the overland trip from England to Greece some 60 times over the next 40 years, in the process acquiring an unparalleled knowledge of parts of Europe that those who make the trip by air simply never see. He became a much loved citizen of Sifnos, a true Sifniot, with many close friends on the island.

Mike moved to a lectureship in Durham in 1967, and met Linda – who was to become the other great love of his life – and who’d also been newly appointed, to the legendary Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic. They married in 1970. Ben arrived in 1984, much to everyone’s great delight. Mike had arrived in the blitz, Ben in the year of the great miners’ strike – clearly both had an eye for a spectacular entrance!

For 35 years I knew Mike as a very good friend and colleague in Durham and we spent a lot of time together, which meant a great deal to me. What I’d like to do is tell you something of his life and work in and beyond the Geography Department, and what this meant to all those who came into contact with him.

For Mike was a focal point in many peoples’ lives, a pivotal link to a variety of people and places. The stream of ‘phone calls from all around the world to Linda and Ben, ‘phone calls that have meant a great deal to them, is one clear indication of this.

Mike cared deeply about the people around him – colleagues and students, undergraduates and postgraduates alike. His door was always open – often at a cost to his own work and himself. He had an enormous impact on the many students who he taught and who turned to him for help and advice.

Mike was also a selfless servant of the Geography Department and an absolutely invaluable source of support to a succession of Departmental Chairmen, me included. He took on the very demanding job of Director of Undergraduate Studies when that post was first created. You could always rely on Mike to do what needed doing, cheerfully and with great efficiency.

But most of all I want to say something about Mike and Greece, his long love affair with Greece. Now as I’m sure you all know Mike spent many happy hours – indeed add them all up and it’s years – on Sifnos with Linda and Ben. Part of him will always remain there.

Not so long ago he and I were reminiscing about life and times and Greece and he said to me, “Well you know Ray, I’ve got over 7,000 slides”. I replied, “That’s a lot of slides of Greece”
“No Ray, that’s 7,000 slides of Sifnos .” He must have been Kodak’s best customer!

But it’s the time that he and I spent on the mainland in northern Greece, on fieldcourses with students over a period of 15 years, that lives on most vividly with me. Once we got to Greece and off the ‘plane in Thessaloniki, Mike simply came into his own. This wasn’t just because he had a very good command of Greek – though that obviously helped. It was more that he seemed to blend, naturally and without effort, into the landscape. It’s almost as if he became Greek. For Mike was, in the very best sense of the word, a traditional geographer. He had an empathy with people and place in what was a very complicated and politically charged part of the world, a sympathy for the persecuted minorities who lived there and a sense of equity and justice that was a joy to behold. And he communicated this to our students – and indeed to Danish students who we often took with us. I can’t do better than quote from an e-mail I received this morning from one of our Danish teaching colleagues, Viggo Plum: “Mike was one of the most inspiring teachers I have ever met”.

Over the years we must have taken several hundred students to northern Greece. Mike captured their imagination, so that for many this fieldtrip was the highlight of their student experience, something that made a deep and lasting impression on their subsequent lives and careers. And this they owed wholly to Mike.

These fieldtrips were of course occasions of much hard work but also of a great deal of humour and excitement, often because students have a habit of ignoring what you tell them! Like the occasion on Lipari when, despite being told not to, they walked on hot lava and melted their shoes! And of the many instances in Greece, I think the one that was still etched most sharply in both our memories was the occasion on which a group of our students were used for knife-throwing practice in a village high in the hills near the northern Greek border. And I like to remember it as it exemplifies the absolute faith and trust that students had in Mike.

We had left them happily talking to a group of local lads and went on our way. What we later learned, when we returned to pick them up, was that they’d been led to the edge of the village and, somewhat bemused, told to stand very still against a barn door. As they stood with knifes thudding into the wood, they re-assured themselves by telling one another: “Just stand still – it’ll be OK. Mike must have arranged it for us”. Of course he hadn’t and Mike was none too pleased when he found out what had happened – we could just imagine the headlines in “The Sun”! But having ascertained that we still had the requisite number of students in one piece, we decided to have a stiff drink and put it down to experience!

It was a real pleasure and a privilege to be on these fieldtrips with him. He had a unique and unsurpassed knowledge of Greece, which he was eager to pass on. He had a happy knack of finding the best restaurants, the freshest gavros, the best mavrodaphne. We shared many enjoyable meals as we happily ate our way across northern Greece, from Komotini to Kozani.

He also had the happy knack of getting me out of trouble with the Greek authorities, and on a couple of occasions, when my geographical curiosity got the better of me and I ventured into forbidden territory and incurred the displeasure of the Greek army, quite literally out of jail! But then again that’s what good friends are for – and Mike was a very good friend to a great many people.

So how should we remember Mike? Above all, that he was a good and kind man, a selfless individual who showed great concern for others, a talented man who often tended to be very modest about his own considerable abilities and achievements – and this of course is one of the reasons why so many people held him in such high regard. And why so many people from different walks of life are here today.

I’ve emphasised my memories of him as a very good friend and colleague in the University and on our travels in Greece. Others would no doubt have emphasised other aspects of his life and achievements. But there are some things that all of us who knew him share in common. We’re all better for having known him and we will remember him with great affection. And while his passing will leave a gap in all our lives, he leaves an indelible memory, a trace that will live on with all of us”.

Professor Ian Simmons and Dr Peter Atkins add:
Michael was the perfect colleague because of his complete willingness to do what ever the department needed ahead of his own preferences. When we first had a Director of undergraduate work, IGS asked him knowing that (a) he would be the best person and (b) that he would willingly work at it. Which he did. One of the casualties of the RAE has been that people like Michael, who have been the backbone of a department's functioning, are undervalued by the system: they make things possible for other people.

Colleagues remember Mike and Linda's lovely hospitality. We remember especially a party in Richmond to which so many of us went that a minibus was hired. On it, Antony Long and Bob Allison used a converted lab trolley to provide a drinks service.

Former students of Michael remember his personal charm and his sense of humour. They also remember his knowledgeable lectures and his habit (never explained) of always lecturing to the top right-hand corner of the Applebey Lecture Theatre. We have lost a true professional, a loyal friend, and a warm, civilized person.