Athol Johnson Wallis (1919-2002)
Athol was born in Scarborough on the 14th of April 1919. Educated at Gladstone Road School, the Boy’s High school for two years and Ackworth Quaker school Pontefract for six years during which time he became a member of their local natural history society. On leaving school in 1936 he started work as an office boy in the counting house at William Rowntree and Sons Ltd. on the corner of York Place, Westborough. He rose steadily in seniority becoming office manager, assistant secretary, company secretary and finally finance director on the board. He was instrumental in making the decision for Rowntree’s to join the Debenhams Group in 1966 and continued with company until his retirement in 1981.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, he registered as a conscientious objector and served for six years in the Friends Ambulance Unit working in hospitals in London and Killearn outside Glasgow. It was here that he met his wife to be, Hannah Thompson who was then in charge of the catering. They married in Penrith, Hannah’s home town, in 1946. Hannah had also attended the Quaker School at Ackworth and was a Society member from 1946 until her death in 1985.
Athol inherited his love of Natural History from his grandfather and his father Edward Arnold Wallis (Scarborough Field Naturalists’ Society member 1890-1954). Because of evening studies and the war he did not join the Society until February 1946. Like his father, his main interest had always been birds but as a member of the Society he developed an interest and sound knowledge of many aspects of local Natural History. Areas in which Athol could speak with some authority included Geology, Botany, Entomology and Conchology. A true all-round naturalist
Thought to be the longest regular contributor to the Scarborough Evening News in it’s history, Athol was well known by his initials, A.J.W. because of his weekly ‘Country Diary’ which was first published in the Mercury on 15th of October 1949 and last appeared on 17th January 1998 some 2000 articles later. He rarely missed a week and was even known to forward articles on by post whilst on holiday in Iceland and Switzerland, in fact it took a fall in the Lake District and a subsequent period in hospital in Barrow-in-Furness to prevent the issue of an article in November 1992. In his first ‘Country Diary’ Athol wrote “At any time of the year, something of interest can be found along the shore, or in the fields and woods of our countryside, and it is to be the aim of these notes to record something of what is going on in the Scarborough area, week by week”, this he did admirably for nearly half a century.
Chairman of the Publication Committee responsible for producing the two volumes of the Flora and Fauna of the Scarborough district published in 1953 and 1956, he was made an Honorary Member of the society at the AGM in 1981 for ‘services to the society’. This publication, to this day, remains a ‘benchmark’ and a standard source of reference regarding the natural history of the Scarborough district.
Having joined the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) in 1948, Athol remained a member until 1998 during which time he served for several years as the BTO representative in north-east Yorkshire and was involved in the pilot scheme for their Breeding Atlas, first published in the early 1960’s
Athol passed away on the 16th of December 2002
Posts Held in the Scarborough Field Naturalists’ Society
President: 1959-60, 1963, 1972-4 and 1989-90
Vice President: 1961-2, 1964-6 and 1975
Committee Member: 1947-8, 1954-8, 1967-71, 1976-8 and 1985-6
Athol represented and epitomised the Society from 1947 to 1997
Posts Held in the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union
Ornithological recorder for VC62: 1954-66
Member of Records Committee: 1954-91
Secretary of Records Committee: 1970-91
General secretary of ornithological section: 1972-76
Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union President: 1971
Contributed a chapter ‘The development of ornithology in Yorkshire’ for J.R. Mather’s book ‘The Birds of Yorkshire’ (1986).
Wrote the Foreward to ‘Where to watch birds in Yorkshire’ (J.R. Mather, 1984).
BTO regional representative for several years in the 60s and 70s being a BTO member from 1948-1998