RIP Professor William Waites (1939 - 2018)
30 Jan 2019
Professor William M Waites was an expert on bacterial spores and president of the Society for Applied Microbiology in the early '90s. Christine Dodd looks back at his life and career.
Will studied for his first degree in Botany at Newcastle University (then a subsidiary of Durham University). He graduated in 1960. This was followed by a PhD in Microbiology at Sheffield, on his thesis ’Studies with bacteriophage lambda’.
His lifelong interest in bacterial spores began with his first postdoctoral position at the Medical Research Council National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill, London. He worked on the control of sporulation in Bacillus subtilis and he continued this work on sporulation in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Oxford.
Spores and more
In 1969 he joined the Agricultural and Food Research Council Food Research Institute (now the Quadram Institute) at Norwich. He worked there for 16 years on improving methods for destruction of bacterial spores and established an international reputation in the field. Milk being sold in Tetra Paks is one practical outcome of Will’s research.
Will took up the post of Chair of Food Microbiology at the University of Nottingham in January 1985; it was then the only chair of this title in the UK. His appointment followed a hiatus in microbiology research at Sutton Bonington after the retirements of Professor Malcolm Woodbine and Dr Alan Seaman and he started with only a small teaching support team.
Presented with this blank canvas, Will began to assemble a viable microbiology group. His first academic appointment of a lecturer was Gordon Stewart and subsequently Christine Dodd was taken on as a demonstrator for undergraduate practicals and then as a postdoc. Will established a vibrant research culture, which saw the microbiology group develop an international reputation.
Will was active in promoting the understanding of food safety at all levels. As well as his many publications, he set up an undergraduate degree in Food Microbiology and later championed a cross-faculty one in Microbiology, a degree which continues to flourish at Nottingham.
He was a sympathetic teacher with a good sense of humour and his passion for the area of food microbiology are very evident when you read textbook chapters he’s written.
As well as retaining his love of spores, Will’s food microbiology interests addressed many of the food safety issues which first became apparent in the mid-1980s, such as Salmonella in poultry, Listeria in dairy products and internalisation of pathogens in salad vegetables.
Externally he chaired the advisory panel of the Food Safety Advisory Centre (1989–1998), a cooperative initiative set up by the six major food retailers in response to the then-burgeoning problem of food safety. He was a major influence on the introduction of HACCP into the food industry.
Will was the local organiser for two very successful SfAM summer conferences at Nottingham: one in 1987, which was on bacterial spores; and one in 1993 on Enterobacteriaceae when he was president of the Society.
In those days the Summer Conference was run over four days with local trips arranged for the afternoon of the third day. The local organiser played an important role as they booked the conference facilities, arranged the meals, took the conference bookings and arrange the local trips – a major undertaking.
Will would recount the story of a new secretary who became the short-stay record holder as she managed only one week before leaving due to all of the ’extra duties’ the conference organisation was imposing!
As a person, Will was a warm, humane and compassionate person who had a great sense of fun and didn’t stand on ceremony. He was willing to give help and opportunities to others, and those of us who worked with him will remember him with great affection for this, as well as for the major contribution he made in promoting the importance of food microbiology and safety.