Obituary: Dr Brian Thompson

Longstanding colleague and friend of the Faculty of Education, Dr Brian Thompson, died peacefully on 22 June 2019, aged 81 years.

 Brian Thompson

As a psychologist with the New Zealand Department of Education, Brian gained practical and research experience in educational and child psychology before taking up a position as a senior teaching fellow in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, Melbourne, where he received his PhD.

From 1978 to 2001 he was a senior lecturer in the then Department (now School) of Education at Victoria University of Wellington, teaching educational psychology and special education at levels from introductory to doctoral thesis. More recently he has held the position of adjunct research fellow.

Professor of Educational Psychology Reg Marsh, who appointed Brian, says he was intellectually very able.

“His work on the reading process and its acquisition was subtle and rigorous and very well regarded internationally. As a teacher he was at his best in a one-to-one situation and would spend hours with an individual student sorting out difficulties with their understanding of concepts.

“He was a shy person but when relaxed had a marvellous sense of humour. We shared a common interest in piano playing although we did not always agree on best playing styles. Brian was a man of considerable integrity who would speak out fiercely in public (if necessary) when he encountered injustice. As a Salvationist he wrote to the paper demolishing the rationale of anti-gay rhetoric that was supposed to be justified by some religious beliefs.”

Professor Carmen Dalli says Brian was already an institution at the University when she started her first job in the late 1980s as a tutor in the first year Educational Psychology course that Brian co-ordinated.

“Brian was a traditional academic: scholarly, rigorous and a stickler for logic, form, and accuracy. I first came across his work while researching my Master’s thesis at the University of Bristol; it was a paper on sex differences in reading attainments. I was quite awed when I discovered I was working with the G.B Thompson whose work I had cited.

“He could be forbidding at first encounter but his postgraduate students got an excellent apprenticeship as researchers and his stern exterior masked a heart of gold that would always remember what you had told him about your children or the cheesecake recipe he had promised he would bring from his wife Margaret.”

Emeritus Professor Cedric Hall acknowledges Brian’s international reputation as a researcher in the field of reading.

“He taught in courses relating to reading, literacy, and special education. He also had a wide knowledge of the history of educational psychology. He had a strong understanding of psychological testing and quantitative research methodologies. He was a well respected colleague, who contributed wisely to school and departmental academic forums.”

Adjunct Professor Ken Stevens says he gained first-hand insight into Brian's international standing in the research community when he was acting chairperson of the department.

“My biggest problem as chairperson was finding space for the numerous overseas scholars who wished to visit Victoria University of Wellington to work with Brian for both short and extended periods of time. It became clear to me that Brian had an international reputation in his field and was respected by scholars in many parts of the world.

“Brian was a quiet and private person who was unfailingly friendly, kind and considerate. He was a good colleague who will be remembered and missed.”

Brian is survived by his wife Margaret, his children and grandchildren.