Professor Rackham before the graduation ceremony in 2008Wikimedia Commons: Wozzy45

Professor Oliver Rackham, renowned botanist and former Master of Corpus Christi College, has died.

Professor Rackham passed away at Papworth Hospital on the evening of 12th February surrounded by close friends including the College's Dean of Chapel, James Buxton, following his admittance to Addenbrooke's Hospital on Tuesday 10th.

He was rushed to hospital after collapsing during a dinner at the college's postgraduate site, Leckhampton. He was 75 years old. 

A short candlelit vigil of choral music and prayer was held in the College's chapel at 6.30pm on Friday 13th in his memory.

Following the news of Professor Rackham's passing, the College's flag flew at half-mast for much of Friday 13th.

The flag above Corpus Christi was flown at half-mast in Rackham's memoryDominic Cawdell

Born on 17th October 1939, Rackham had a lifelong association with Corpus, studying at the college as an undergraduate before specialising as a historical ecologist and historian of landscape.

Rackham was one of Corpus' longest serving Fellows, having been made a Fellow in ecology in 1964. He became a Life Fellow in 2008, and remained a frequent and notable presence around College until his death.

Andrew Festing's 2009 portrait of Rackham was recently added to the collection of paintings of former Masters in the college's hall. Since then, students have noted how Rackham could occasionally be seen dining on the students' tables opposite his own portrait.

Rackham's death has been felt particularly keenly among the College's chapel community, for whom he was a "dedicated and highly-respected member". Third year geographer and Chapel Clerk Frances Butcher, who said she benefited greatly from reading his "seminal works", told Varsity: "Prof Rackham was renowned for his entertaining and animated delivery of readings, which never failed to raise a smile among his fellow congregants.

"From an academic perspective, his passion for his field of research was unrivalled and students of geography and related disciplines will no doubt continue to learn from his books for many years to come."

Organ Scholar James Speakman spoke of an emotional day during which he became aware of the real extent of Rackham's contribution to the College.

"Though quiet and unassuming in person, he had such a vivacity and cheeky sense of humour in larger company," he told Varsity. "It was always a delight to hear him read the Old Testament Lessons at Evensong, which he delivered in his own eccentric style, and with animated, often improvised flair. Ask any Corpuscle – he was a true figurehead.

"He represented a lifelong commitment to his subject and his institution, Corpus, which I've been told he considered his true family."

He became Master of the College in 2008, after the previous holder of the post, Sir Alan Wilson, resigned only seven months after his appointment.

Professor Wilson resigned unexpectedly on 30th April 2007. As the longest-serving Fellow at the time of Wilson's resignation, Rackham became interim Master, serving in the position for a year from 15 October 2007 until 1 October 2008, when the current Master Stuart Laing was elected.

Laing release the following statement to Varsity:

"All of us at Corpus – Fellows, staff and students – have been deeply saddened by the death of Professor Oliver Rackham. He was a very distinguished botanist, the first to make serious study of the English (and other) woodlands, and one who communicated his knowledge brilliantly in accessible books as well as his academic publications.

"He had a deep love of the University and his College, and their customs and traditions. His attachment to Corpus was without parallel: he was undergraduate, post-graduate, Fellow and Master, in recent years a Life and an Honorary Fellow, and was dearly loved by all College members. Oliver Rackham’s passing leaves a gap impossible to fill."

Rackham was awarded an OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours in 1998 for "services to nature conservation". 

Third-year lawyer Jamie Ranson summed up many of the fond memories students have of Oliver Rackham. 

"Professor Rackham was a man of great dedication, exuberant spirit and sincere generosity. He made Corpus proud. From the red socks and sandals to the square atop his head and his particular way of saying 'Do please be seated' at formals, he will be sorely missed."