Imperial College London

David Goodall – tributes to 104 year old botanist and alumnus


Professor David Goodall with his PhD thesis in 2017

Professor David Goodall received a new copy of his PhD thesis 75 years after submission, at a special event in 2017

The renowned botanist and ecologist Professor David Goodall, who was Australia’s oldest working scientist, has died aged 104.

Imperial’s President led tributes to the alumnus, who graduated from the College with a BSc in 1935 and completed a PhD in 1941.

Dr David Goodall with fellow alumni in Perth
Dr David Goodall with fellow alumni in Perth

Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said: “We celebrate Professor David Goodall’s wonderful achievements and contributions to the world. His remarkable life, energy and commitment to discovery inspired many students and scientists all over the world. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

In 2017, Professor Goodall received a gift from President Gast: a newly bound copy of the PhD thesis he submitted 75 years earlier, entitled ‘Studies in the Assimilation of the Tomato Plant’.  

The thesis was presented to Professor Goodall at a special event in Perth, organised by the Imperial College Alumni Association of Western Australia (ICAAWA). 

'Gentleman and scholar'

Dr Ian Merker (Electrical Engineering 1967, PhD Material Sciences 1972), chair of ICAAWA, became close friends with Professor Goodall, helping celebrate his 103rd birthday where he drank from an Imperial tankard. 

Ian Merker celebrating David Goodall's 103rd birthday
Professor David Goodall celebrating his 103rd birthday with Dr Ian Merker

Dr Merker said: “It has been a unique honour to have shared the last few years with our most esteemed ‘senior’ Imperial alumnus, Professor David Goodall here in Western Australia. He was the perfect gentleman and scholar – quietly spoken, humble yet an amazingly confident and competent user of the English language. 

“We all felt compelled to listen to every word as he recounted stories of his life – a life spanning almost eleven decades – full of quiet achievement and personal adventures. To the very end, David’s mind was active and focussed.

“David was independent and passionate about being in control of his life - and ultimately his death. We all totally supported and respected his wishes.

“David will be sadly missed, but will always remain an inspiration to all who had the fortune of being with him.”

Oldest working scientist

Professor Goodall continued his scientific research, commuting daily to his office at Edith Cowan University, until the age of 103. He was Australia’s oldest working scientist.

Dr David Goodall drank from an Imperial tankard at his 103rd birthday partyHe worked in Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Ecosystem Management in Perth, maintaining an active professional schedule, editing the Ecosystems of the World series for Elsevier since 1974, reviewing journal papers and supervising PhD students in botany.  

Professor Goodall won international plaudits for his contributions to understanding of plant biosystems. He worked in Britain, Ghana, the United States and Australia, and received an honorary doctorate from Italy’s Università degli Studí di Trieste in 1990. 

He received the Order of Australia in 2016 for significant service to science as an academic, researcher and author in the area of plant ecology and natural resources management.

Poet, actor, adventurer 

David Goodall was born in London on 4 April 1914, a few months before the outbreak of the First World War. He moved to Australia in 1948 to take up a post at the University of Melbourne.

David Goodall in KimberleyProfessor Goodall was an amateur poet and actor with a particular enthusiasm for Shakespeare. He played tennis until he turned 90. The great grandfather of 16 enjoyed traveling, visiting the Abrolhos Islands, a coral and wildlife-rich chain of uninhabited islands 60km off Australia’s west coast, aged 102, and riding a gyrocopter to the remote Kimberley station of Kachana, aged 103.

Professor Goodall campaigned for the right to die as a member of the pro-euthanasia organisation Exit International. After a recent deterioration in his health, Dr Goodall chose to end his life in Switzerland.

During a news conference earlier in the week, Professor Goodall was asked what his final thought would be. He said: “I'll be thinking about the needle and hoping they aim right!”

He spent his last day touring the Basel University Botanical Gardens with three of his 12 grandchildren.


Andrew Scheuber

Andrew Scheuber
Communications Division

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