The Royal Geographical Society is saddened to report the death of Dr David Hilling, MBE, on 27th March 2020, aged 85. David was a long-standing Fellow, regular attendee of Monday night lectures and faithful supporter of the Geographical Club, including a stint as the Geographical Club’s Secretary from 1996 to 2002.
David graduated BSc (1957) and MSc (1961) from the University of Wales (Aberystwyth) and following a three-year stint as Junior Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, David took up a Lectureship in the nascent Geography Department at the University of Ghana (Legon) in 1961. Five years at Legon kindled David’s career foci on geographies of African development and on maritime transport geographies, ports and waterways. This led to major publications, including Seaports and Development in Tropical Africa (Macmillan, 1970, edited with B.S. Hoyle), Transport and Developing Countries (Routledge, 1996), and Africa: Geography and Development (Hutchinson, 1997, with Alan Mountjoy).
David took up a lectureship at Bedford College, University of London, in 1966 and served there, and then at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College until his retirement in 1996. David was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1978, and served as acting Head of Department at the time of the Bedford College Department’s move to the Egham campus of the newly merged Royal Holloway and Bedford New College in 1985. After retiring, David continued to play an active role as an Honorary Research Fellow and Honorary Associate of Royal Holloway. Over the years, students and staff colleagues alike benefitted from David’s kindness, mentorship and gift for good humoured storytelling. He was an enthusiastic and popular field course leader, and David’s undergraduate courses on West Africa and on Transport Geography were amongst the most popular registrations, regularly receiving rave reviews. He retained a life-long affection for Ghana, and supervised a string of Ghanaian and UK research projects on aspects of West African transport and development. His own research, however, switched progressively to focus solely on maritime and inland waterway themes, and he continued to publish articles, commentaries and short policy interventions in trade magazines until recently.
David was appointed an MBE in the 2004 New Year’s Honours List for services to Inland Waterways. He was an enthusiastic member of the Inland Waterways Association’s Inland Shipping Group, including serving as its Vice President and Chairman for some years, and keenly promoted the benefits of transport by water wherever he went. He was a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Transport, and, as Member of the International Navigation Association, served on its British National Commission. He also served a term as UK Vice President of the European River-Sea Transport Union. As if this were not enough, David taught in retirement in the LSE and University of Bournemouth MScs in Marine Policy, in the Greenwich Maritime Institute’s MA in Maritime History (also acting as research advisor), and indulged his passion for the sea by giving destination lectures in regular cruises to the Mediterranean and West Africa.
Both professionally and personally, David was tremendously loyal, thinking of the long term and suspicious of superficial fashion. He retained great affection for his two former departments at Legon and Royal Holloway, and even when increasingly impeded by weakening health, made a point of attending the annual Geography Department Christmas lunch at RHUL. Remarkably, he is also still remembered with affection by the only surviving former member of the department at the University of Ghana at the time, George Benneh – one year his senior and later to become Vice Chancellor and a government minister – and who is himself now in poor health. David is survived by his wife, Wendy, and sons Hugh and Christopher, to whom we offer our heartfelt condolences.
Written by Duncan McGregor and David Simon