top of page

Sid's Scholarship Fund

Sid was a much loved friend, musician and songwriter who attended our retreat. We miss him dearly, and will forever hold close our fond memories of many a vibrant debate around songwriting, harmony, music and the world in general... and of course his fantastic songs! His family have very kindly donated a scholarship fund for young struggling music students to have the opportunity to join us on the retreat. His legacy lives within us and we are tremondously grateful.

If you are interested in applying for the Scholarship fund please contact Paola directly for more details.

Remembering Howard “Sid” Thomas
1948–2022

Howard Thomas—known to almost everyone as Sid—was born and educated in Neath, South Wales. He earned a BSc and a PhD at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and had a career in scientific research based at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, subsequently the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), near Aberystwyth.

His scientific interests focused particularly on leaf senescence and chlorophyll catabolism, and his group played a leading role in identifying the gene underlying the green/yellow seed trait studied by Mendel. He spent a sabbatical year at the University of California, Davis, in the 1970s and collaborated widely, with visiting positions at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, and the University of Zurich in Switzerland. By the end of his career, Sid was IGER’s strategic development director. He was a fellow of the Linnean Society and of the Learned Society of Wales.

Sid was a long-term member of ASPB, and because of his expertise in chlorophyll catabolism and senescence, he was invited to contribute to Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Plants, published jointly by ASPB and Wiley. Sid, together with his wife Helen Ougham, Russell Jones, and Susan Waaland, collaborated to write the undergraduate textbook The Molecular Life of Plants, also published jointly by ASPB and Wiley-Blackwell.

After retirement, Sid held an emeritus professor position at Aberystwyth University. He served as an editor of New Phytologist for many years and was treasurer and on the board of trustees of the New Phytologist Foundation. He was an ISI Highly Cited Researcher and published more than 200 research papers, books, and reviews. He was still publishing at the time of his death in July 2022.

Sid was not only a scientist; he was also a talented jazz musician, composer, and collaborator working with artists and English literature academics. He wrote about music, literature, and much more. The book Food and the Literary Imagination (by Jayne Elisabeth Archer, Richard Marggraf Turley, and Howard Thomas, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) explores the authors’ joint interest in how food security, the food chain, and concerns about its corruption and disruption are represented in literature, including in plays, poetry, and novels.

After retirement, Sid wrote four books on subjects reflecting his own philosophy of science and the natural world: Senescence, The Tale of the Three Little Pigments (chlorophylls, carotenoids, and anthocyanins), The War Between Trees and Grasses, and Plant Blindness. The latter is a topic on which Sid, Helen, and Dawn Sanders also wrote jointly. He was committed to the belief that collaboration between scientists and those engaged in the creative arts was of value to all those concerned and to society as a whole. This belief was further reflected in a collaboration with artists Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, who used growing grass as one of the media in their works. This experience led to new artworks, talks, and workshops run jointly by scientists and artists, as well as novel research based on the information content of plant images.

From childhood, Sid was fascinated by jazz. His musical interests and accomplishments were broad. He played clarinet from an early age and taught himself jazz piano. After retirement from IGER, he described his musical development in the memoir “Confessions of an Accidental Jazz Pianist,” and he published a guide to jazz harmony for pianists. He delved into recording and synthesizer technology and created multi-instrumental recordings both in his son Ben’s studio in Wales and in his own Cwtch Studio in Kent. For the symposium “A Song of Botany” at the 2011 International Botanical Congress in Melbourne, Sid wrote music for Helen Ougham’s lyrics “Peas in Our Time” to celebrate their success in cloning a Mendelian gene. Sid and Helen contributed actively to Wendy Silk’s NSF networking project to enhance science learning via the arts.

 

Sid wrote lyrics and produced original compositions (e.g., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooVAO_8qF5I); he made jazz arrangements of standards ranging from 17th-century madrigals to Neil Young country tunes. He wrote about love, of course, but other topics included the plague of 1665, evolution, photosystem II, spinach, and the different lifespans among biota. He collaborated with vocalists Maggie Nicols, Nance Wilson, and Veronique Bouchet, among others, in arranging and performing a diverse collection of songs and instrumental pieces. From 2016 to 2020 he published six jazz albums on Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music. In 2020, Sid’s “Alkanet Everywhere” (https://bit.ly/3BKJJqE), inspired by the profusion of Pentaglottis sempervirens that sprang up that year in the village of Wye where he and Helen lived, was shortlisted for the Chairman’s Prize section of the United Kingdom’s King Lear Prizes competition. In the last months of his life, Sid revelled at a positive review on Creative Sauce, a YouTube channel, and he enjoyed being a jazz impresario, scheduling performances at the New Flying Horse, a local pub.

 

Sid is survived by Helen, who is also a fellow of the Linnean Society and of the Learned Society of Wales; his son Ben; and grandsons Rowan, Brodie, and Sammy. He will be greatly missed as a much-loved and inspirational husband, father, grandfather, uncle, colleague, and mentor to the next generation of scientists.

 

BY WENDY SILK, ELEANOR CRUMP, HELEN OUGHAM, and RUSSELL JONES


More about his life and work can be found at https://sidthomas.net/wp/.

Pale Creatures

The yew endures four thousand years.
The mayfly dances for a few summer hours.
And so it goes: every thing lives a lifetime.

Something lives under every stone—
Pale creatures hatching by the light of the moon.
And so it goes: every thing lives a lifetime.

Time, a hare and tortoise race.
Lichen on a sundial’s face.
Life’s now. Time’s never.
And so it goes: the glass falls hour by hour, forever.

Daughters of Adam, sons of Eve,
Cast fleeting shadows on the walls of the cave.
And so it goes: every thing lives a lifetime.

Melting clockface, leafless tree.
Apple where the head should be.
Still life. Still standing.
And so it goes: to fly is easy, the hard part is landing.

Meanwhile, in awful solitude,
Out there two galaxies approach and collide.

And so it goes: every thing lives a lifetime.

Words and music by Sid Thomas (on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3SwEXDYor on Spotify at https://spoti.fi/3rfzGVH).

SidThomas-1.jpg
bottom of page