Honorary graduates 23rd June (am)

Thursday 22 June 2006

The University this morning conferred degrees upon Professor of Physic Sir Keith Peters and the writer William Dalrymple. They are pictured (left-right) with John Mackie, who was awarded the University medal.


Citation for University Medal by Professor David Paterson, School of Biology –

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Mr. John Mackie to receive the University Medal.

John Mackie joined the University of St Andrews as a Junior Technician in the Department of Zoology in July 1955. John was quickly recognized as an excellent addition to the staff, immediately showing the care and attention to detail that exemplified his entire career. He was going to need these skills. Within a few years of his appointment he was asked to establish and operate a transmission electron microscope facility in the Bute Medical Building. It is difficult in our present world of super computers, mobile phones and digital cameras to remember how important and significant the task assigned to John was. Electron microscopy was revolutionizing how we understood the structure and function of the tissues and cells at the roots of biology. Electron microscopy had helped scientists to distinguish between the two major cellular organizations, prokaryotes and eukaryotes and was an exciting and vibrant new science. John became an expert in electron microscopy but also understood the significance of the structure he so beautifully presented, in terms of the underlying cell biology. This was not simply science. The electron microscope is only a tool but in order to be useful, material has to be prepared in a protracted and exacting way. Errors at this stage are all too easy and make the microscope itself redundant. Experience counts for everything. You can give the ingredients for a gourmet meal to anyone but only a master chef will produce the meal of a lifetime. John was a “Gordon Ramsay¿ but much more polite, a master in producing the goods. John always produced work of the highest standard and made this new and complicated technology accessible to all investigators in a range of disciplines. Biochemists, anatomists, botanists, physiologists, zoologists, and marine biologists all benefited. Many members of academic staff, and their Final Year Honours Project students, have been privileged to enjoy this support. There is a real artistry at the heart of selecting, presenting and explaining the ultra-structure of cells. John’s skills were recognized at an early point when he was invited to embark on an MSc degree by research which was quickly completed.

A great part of what contributed to the success of the electron microscopy suite was not only John’s technical expertise but his patience and ability to pass on his knowledge. This success was not always to John’s advantage. The suite was extremely busy, so much so that it was suggested at one point that because of the back- log, the suite should operate on a 24 hour basis. I’m not sure if John was simply going be asked to work round the clock but I wouldn’t be too surprised. In addition to his work over almost 50 years, during which the respect of his peers continued to grow, John also was appointed to the University Court for four years (1997-2001), a duty he took as seriously as his academic work.

Perhaps it becomes easier to understand John’s huge success in his work when it is also recognized he has an artistic eye. John collects and conserves beautiful images for his own pleasure in the form of botanical stamps. John has particularly specialized in the collection of stamps featuring orchids and has a wide renown for his collection. John Mackie retired from his post as a Senior Technician at the end of February 2005 after having spent a period of 50 years with this University. He may represent the end of an era when technical staff could develop and support a single major discipline with such dedication and success over the course of their career.

Chancellor, in recognition of his personal contribution to the School of Biology and his years of exceptional service to the University, I invite you to present the University Medal to Mr. John Mackie.

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