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Tributes paid to pioneering woman who unearthed science history

PUBLISHED: 20:26 11 February 2020 | UPDATED: 20:26 11 February 2020

Rosemary Harvey worked at the John Innes centre for more than 40 years. Picture: Julia Glenn

Rosemary Harvey worked at the John Innes centre for more than 40 years. Picture: Julia Glenn

Archant

From the moment science pioneer and author Rosemary Harvey hitchhiked across America in the 1950s as a young woman, it was clear she would lead a trailblazing life.

Rosemary Harvey with her daughter, Julia. Picture: Julia GlennRosemary Harvey with her daughter, Julia. Picture: Julia Glenn

It was this curiosity and adventurous spirit that she applied to her job at the John Innes Centre, where she worked for 42 years.

Joining from the British Library in London, Mrs Harvey carved a niche as an archivist and, as a multi-linguist, used her talents to translate major texts from science history.

Rosemary Harvey translated key scientific texts as an archivist at the John Innes Centre. Picture: Julia GlennRosemary Harvey translated key scientific texts as an archivist at the John Innes Centre. Picture: Julia Glenn

She had an excellent knowledge of German, Russian, Latin, French and Ancient Greek as well as Medieval Latin and Palaeography. Her command of languages proved invaluable for scientists in need of translations and helped piece together the history of plant genetics.

Scholars were repeatedly drawn to her work due to her in-depth understanding of the history of genetics, evolutionary investigation and Darwinism.

Rosemary Harvey wrote a biography of biologist William Bateson. Pictured with her son Richard. Picture: Julia GlennRosemary Harvey wrote a biography of biologist William Bateson. Pictured with her son Richard. Picture: Julia Glenn

Retirement came in 1998 when she was commissioned to write a biography of biologist William Bateson, founder of the science of genetics and the first director of the John Innes Institute in 1910.

The biography, which marked her out as a remarkable and dedicated scholar, is still consulted by Bateson researchers and John Innes Centre staff today.

Mrs Harvey also had many articles published based on her knowledge of the John Innes Archives and the History of Genetics Library and further articles for the in-house bulletin 'Archives Corner' were extremely popular with staff.

Professor Enrico Coen, group leader at the John Innes Centre, said: "I knew her as an advisor to her project on the Bateson biography. She was tireless in unearthing every facet around Bateson's life. The book she wrote was not only extraordinarily informative but had a wit and charm that came from her. Her family should be incredibly proud of her and the legacy she has left."

The daughter of a nurse and a doctor, Mrs Harvey was born in 1935 in Hornchurch in East London.

At the age of 17, she studied French and German at Somerville College, University of Oxford on a scholarship, where she was just one of three women on the course.

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After university, her first job was at the British Library in special collections before she started work at the John Innes Centre in Bayfordbury, Hertforshire in 1957.

There she met lab technician Derek Harvey at the age of 22 whom she married in 1968 in London.

They both moved to Taverham in 1967, where Mrs Harvey lived for 50 years, when the John Innes Centre moved to its current location in Colney, near Norwich.

The couple later had two children, Richard Harvey and Julia Glenn.

Mrs Glenn said: "She was the gentlest, kindest person I've ever known. She taught us how to have fun, how to think about things and how to live life to the full. I am so proud and grateful that she was my mum.

"She was also one of the most modest people I have ever known and never drew attention to her own brilliance and was always humble.

"She just loved learning and was an endlessly curious person. She was always solving riddles and would translate texts and read when she could. We travelled a lot together and she went to Russia in the fifties - she was such an adventurer. In many ways she was born way ahead of her time."

Her passion for languages never waned. On a trip to Estonia she astonished locals by asking for currency in a bank in the native language and studied for a Russian A-Level in her spare time.

Outside of work and family, Mrs Harvey was a sports enthusiast and a member of Taverham swimmers from the 1980s until the group closed.

She was also part of a bird-watching group and enjoyed a period as head of Norfolk Ramblers.

Mrs Harvey died on January 29 after a five year battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Her funeral will take place at Colney Woodland Burial on Watton Road, Norwich on Tuesday February 25 at 11am.


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