Rodney Dales obituary

Other lives: Marine zoologist whose specialism was the marine worm Polychaete annelids

My father, Rodney Dales, who has died aged 93, was an internationally recognised expert in the field of marine invertebrate zoology.

Rodney made many significant findings in his specialist field, Polychaete marine worms. Studying these creatures while based in London necessitated frequent trips to the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth in order to collect specimens. There, equipped with wellington boots, forks and collecting boxes, Rodney and his students gathered such wonders as the evocatively named Cirratulus, the bright red Terebella and his favourite worm, Neoamphitrite.

Rodney was born in Romford, Essex, the son of Sidney Dales, an architect, and his wife, Muriel (nee Tattersall), who assisted in the architectural practice. During the second world war the family moved to Biddenden, Kent.

Following school at Brentwood, Rodney went to Queen Mary College in London to study zoology and then to MIT on a Fulbright scholarship. Returning to the UK, he worked briefly at King’s College London for Rosalind Franklin whose research on X-ray diffraction studies was central to the discovery of DNA. On completing his PhD he joined the zoology department at Bedford College.

Anxious to share his expertise, he wrote numerous books, chapters and research papers many of which he illustrated with his own line drawings. His Annelids (1963) remains the go-to reference book on the subject. He attracted doctoral students from across the globe, and it is a testimony to the affectionate regard in which he was held that many stayed in touch long after they themselves were running university departments.

He was appointed head of the zoology department at Bedford College in 1970, later becoming dean of science. In 1985, following a series of reorganisations, Bedford merged with Royal Holloway College and moved to Egham, in Surrey. There he was head of a much larger zoology department - a role in which his insights into how creatures adapt to challenging environments occasionally came in useful. He retired in 1992.

In retirement he pursued his varied interests with typical energy and undiminished curiosity. Never without a sketchbook, he took a degree in fine art printmaking; and on family holidays would often disappear, reappearing later with wonderful pen and ink and watercolour drawings of Breton ports, alpine peaks, or the flora of the Gower Peninsula. And he continued to write. His last published book, in 2018, was on a special passion, timber framed buildings. He was writing up until three weeks before his death - notably a series of illustrated short stories for his granddaughter.

Rodney is survived by his wife, Margaret (nee Kidd), whom he married in 1955, by three of their five children, and by two granddaughters and three grandsons. Two sons predeceased him.

Clare Dales

The GuardianTramp

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