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Gwendolen Margaret (Peigi) Wallace, 1941 - 2001

Gwendolen Margaret Peigi Wallace was born in Torquay and, apart from a two-year sojourn in the USA, was educated at Heathfield School, Harrow. She began her geological studies (1959-60) at the Sir John Cass College, taking classes towards a University of London General Honours Degree. Sir John Cass College did not offer BSc Special Honours in geology, so she moved after one year to King’s College, London.

Here she graduated and stayed on to complete her PhD on the Devonian of the Boulonnais. There was a strong streak of activism in Peigi’s character, and at King’s, Peigi was always at the forefront of student activity. Later she was to play a major role in the group of “soft rock” geologists whose meetings led to the foundation of the Palaeontological Association. The world was to see more of Peigi the activist in later years.

During the 1960s Peigi started to give lectures on the geology of wine, particularly to student societies. Her theatrical style, producing a bottle of each vintage from behind the lectern as it was mentioned, was deservedly successful and memorable. She put these ideas together for the 1972 International Geological Congress (Montreal). For geologists and wine trade alike, Peigi was a pioneer in making people think of the geology behind wines, and the realisation that it is not just grape-variety and climate that control quality and character.

Peigi lectured at Imperial College, London (1966-86) field-training and teaching palaeontology to a generation. Her keen eye found ostracods and foraminifera where generations of geologists had not spotted any. Peigi’s main talent as a teacher derived from her work as a palaeoecologist - she was able to make fossils “come alive”.

Dr Sue Turner (Queensland Museum) remembers Peigi from this period. “We were introduced by Beverly Halstead, then my tutor, on my first attendance (c. 1966) at the Geological Society. She took me aside with the words "Come with me and I'll show you where the ladies’ toilet is - it took me six months to find it!"

“Peigi always seemed to find a new slant - whether it was Devonian biostratigraphy or wider aspects of sedimentology or palaeontology. With mentor and friend Prof. Derek Ager, her imaginative work on modelling brachiopod internal skeletal apparatuses (including joint experimentation in a bath) was presented one afternoon in the Society’s old Meeting Room. That showed us something of which few students are made adequately aware - that geology can be fun!”

Peigi was an active member of the Geologists’ Association (GA), taking a leading role in its Proceedings (1970-80) as Secretary to the Publications Committee. During this period Peigi (with Derek Ager and Bruce Sellwood) established the Proceedings in the emerging literature of palaeoecology. She stood down in 1979 and was awarded the Association’s Foulerton Award – using the money to buy the legendary Tigre, first of many Griffin dogs.

Following her marriage (1984) to Prof. Robert Shackleton FRS (q.v.), they lived happily in East Hendred (Oxon.) where they shared a love of gardening and geology. Their many overseas trips, mostly to Africa and parts of Asia, always involved one (preferably both) of these enthusiasms. Peigi had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of plants and a particular enthusiasm for rare varieties.

In 1989 Peigi joined the Oxfordshire Branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). She was passionate about the landscape heritage and the environment, using the skills gained in her teaching and research for the benefit of CPRE and the Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum (ONCF). Her mapping and editorial skills came to the fore in updating the CPRE hedgerow survey for Oxfordshire in the mid-1990s.

She became involved nationally over the Government’s proposed legislation to protect hedgerows. When finally enacted (1997) she was furious that the protection did not go further. Her contribution was recognised in 2000, when she was awarded the CPRE Countryside Medal - presented by actor Jeremy Irons (President of Oxfordshire CPRE) with a resounding kiss. Eyewitnesses say it was difficult to say which she relished more, the kiss or the medal.

In 2000 her work for CPRE took a new turn with the design and introduction of a dry stone wall survey. Her indomitable spirit led her to often work too hard, but Robert’s support ensured that she finished what she started. Of course, that did not stop her scolding him whenever she found him doing things deemed inappropriate for a 90 year-old, such as climbing a ladder to clear gutters.

Peigi was richly talented (piano to Grade 6, OU degree in French, and a remarkable dressmaker), providing the few women students of her time with something that is still in short supply - a role model both as an innovative and diligent field geologist and inspiring palaeobiologist.

Peigi was a colourful and forceful character with a razor sharp mind – and tongue, occasionally - whose life and career touched many and who worked tirelessly towards the understanding and preservation of our natural and cultural heritage.

Ted Nield, from contributions by Colin Dixon, Jake Hancock, Jane Hornsby, Alix Keogan, Alison Ries, Eric Robinson, Ray Skelhorn and Sue Turner