Obituary: Arthur Waitt, botanist, 82

Arthur Waitt
Arthur Waitt
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TRIBUTES have been paid to a leading botanist from the Capital who became a world authority on yams and developed the scientific key to the vegetable that is still in use today.

Arthur Waitt died last month aged 82 following several heart scares but leaves behind a scientific legacy, following a career that took him to the foreign office and 25 years working for one of the world’s biggest companies in crop production.

Mr Waitt was brought up in Marchmont and educated at George Watson’s College before completing national service with the RAF in Malta. On his return he studied a bachelor of science at Edinburgh University and later added diplomas at Cambridge.

He then travelled to Trinidad and Tobago to undertake a course in agricultural sciences and tropical agriculture, which saw him immediately recruited to the foreign office in Nigeria from 1956.

He married his fiance Elsie, who he also travelled with to Africa, in the same year.

The family remained there until 1964 and during the time that Mr Waitt became one of the world’s leading experts on yams. His key to the yam is at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for use in scientific recognition of the plant.

The family returned to the UK and lived in Haslemere, England, where Mr Waitt worked for Plant Protection – the company that was later to become ICI, Zeneca and then Syngenta – before moving to Fernhurst, West Sussex, with his wife and three children, Colin, Keith and Alison, in 1970.

Mr Waitt was employed as a roving scout seeking new product possibilities from companies all around the world.

Later he earned the demanding position of looking after visitors, including royalty, politicians, technicos and distributors.

In 1990, he organised the firm’s Fernhurst Open Day, which attracted nearly 10,000 visitors.

When he retired in 1990s, Mr Waitt served a term on the parish council and became a school governor at Fernhurst Primary School and Midhurst Intermediate School as well as a serving as chairman of the governors of both.

On his retirement as governor in 1996, the director of education wrote of him: “Your interest in education and the welfare of the youth of this district is outstanding.”

He is credited as being one of the leading lights in bringing IT equipment and modern computer sciences to his local community through the Fernhurst Tele Cottage.

Mr Waitt was an active fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Support in Midhurst and was an avid gardener.

His wife Elsie said: “Right to the end he had what I called a Watsonian’s sense of humour. He was dead pan and you didn’t always know when he was joking or not.”