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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2013 Awardees 2013 (Honorary Membership Award) - Andrew R. Milner


I was born and brought up in the industrial town of Luton, 30 miles north of London, and from an early age had a deep interest in natural history. I spent my weekends bicycling around the neighbouring Chiltern Hills seeking out the fauna and flora and familiarizing myself with it all. We used to holiday in Norfolk, and my earliest palaeontological activity was collecting chalk fossils from the intertidal zone at Sheringham. When planning to go to University, I couldn't decide whether to go for zoology or botany, but eventually went to Newcastle on Tyne with the intention of becoming a marine biologist. However, after taking Alec Panchen's course in VP, I decided that fossil vertebrates were more interesting. For my doctoral studies, Alec put me onto the 'branchiosaur problem' starting a life-time interest in temnospondyl amphibians. After six months, we discovered that Jürgen Boy at Mainz was just completing his thesis on the same topic. He and I had come to exactly the same conclusions using different material, which was comforting in that we were, with some trepidation, contradicting both Watson and Romer. However it meant that my thesis topic had to be modified en route and the work ended up taking over five years to complete.

In the 1970's, short-term teaching posts were commoner than postdoctoral posts, so I spent three years at the University of Leeds working with Professor McNeill Alexander as a teaching assistant while I wrote up my Ph.D.  Angela and I married in 1972 while I was at Leeds, and we set about the problem of finding a location where there would be employment for two vertebrate palaeontologists. The Ph.D and the job were both completed in 1974 and I was then extremely fortunate to be able to move straight into the lecturing post in the Department of Zoology at Birkbeck College in the University of London, while Angela was appointed to a post in the Natural History Museum in 1976. Birkbeck College was the university's adult education college with all teaching taking place after 6 pm. I have never been a 'morning person' and the daily cycle suited me well. From 1974 to 2005, I devised and taught courses on all aspects of  'whole-organism' zoology, not only morphology and evolution but also ecology, behaviour, biogeography, systematics and even ethics! However, by 2002, it had become clear that my college saw molecular biology as the only biological research worth supporting and I took early retirement in 2005 after we had moved to a house big enough to cope with my library. The Natural History Museum was kind enough to offer me office space and I continue to work there as a research associate, mainly rounding off projects that I should have finished years ago.

Throughout my career, my core interest has been the origin and early evolution of temnospondyl amphibians, although I have been regularly distracted by other topics, including turtles, the Purbeck fauna, and lissamphibian origins. I have enjoyed collaborative work with many colleagues, in particular Jenny Clack, Susan Evans, Rainer Schoch and of course, Angela. My most productive output was achieved with the help of Sandy Sequeira who was my assistant whenever soft money permitted, and sometimes when there was none. I would have achieved far less without her sustained support over many years.

I joined SVP in 1971 and in the early years, the News Bulletin was the most valuable source of information about what was going on in the VP world. The availability of affordable transatlantic flights enabled me to go to meetings from 1992 onwards, and meet my North American friends and colleagues on a regular basis. In the forty or so years that I have been a member, I have seen the Society successfully expand to encompass the entire global VP community. In my early career I was fortunate enough to meet Al Romer several times. Al used to joke that in terms of the politics of science, vertebrate palaeontologists were like the conies of the bible, 'that feeble folk that dwelleth among the rocks' (Proverbs 30:26). The sustained activity of SVP over that last 30 years has ensured that this is no longer the case. I feel privileged to have been made an honorary member of the Society.