THE CITY and university of Edinburgh and the Scottish research community owe much to the invigorating effect of academics who have made their life's work on other continents. After a distinguished career in Africa and the West Indies, Peter Wilson moved to Scotland to head the East of Scotland Agricultural College, also taking on the post of Scientific Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Rural Research. He then became an ebullient and innovative general secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and, finally, President of the Rotary Club of Edinburgh.
Born in 1928 and educated at Whitgift School, in Croydon, he went to Wye College, gaining a BSc and MSc, which took him to Edinburgh University for a diploma in Animal Genetics under Professor C.H. Waddington, and a PhD in Agriculture at London University. From 1951 for six years he was at Makerere College, the University College of East Africa in Uganda. His work on improvement in cattle breeding is still remembered by politicians of the time such as Abu Mayanja.
He was promoted to be a senior lecturer in animal production at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in 1957. After four successful years, at the age of 34, he became Professor of Agriculture at the University College of the West Indies, where he made valuable contributions to work on sugar and bananas. Returning to Britain, partly for the education of his young family, he was appointed Head of Biometrics at the Unilever Research Laboratory at Bedford, going on to be Chief Agricultural Adviser of BOCM Silcock.
In a jaunty autobiographical essay, Purchase Two Kilts (2001), Wilson describes how he was lured north to Edinburgh. The title of his book is the content of the telegram which he sent to his wife, Maud, in 1983 letting her know that they would be moving north.
He had a galvanic effect on the work of the East of Scotland College and the Edinburgh School of Agriculture. At a time when farmers in the Lothians were improving their animal husbandry and crop production, the college under Wilson's hands-on leadership proved to be of the greatest value. Any qualms that there had been about a man whose books were Agriculture in the Tropics (1965) and Improved Feeding of Cattle and Sheep (1981) were dispelled by his determination to be approachable to all farmers, however small.
The many positions held by Wilson included the honorary secretaryship of the Institute of Biology and various roles in the Scottish Committee of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. He was appointed CBE in 1986 for his contribution to agricultural education and awarded the Farmers Club Gold Cup for distinguished service to research. …