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Tucker, Graham Shardalow Lee (1924–1980)

by Noel Butlin

In March 1959 ANU decided to invest $500 in a one-year Visiting Fellowship during 1960. This must have been the best investment in human capital that the University ever made.

The offer netted, on 27 June 1960, Graham Shardalow Lee Tucker, Reader in Economic History at Melbourne University. Graham arrived with his wife, Lois, and daughter, Carley, and returned to Melbourne only to sell his house and finalise his transfer to the Chair of Economic History at the School of General Studies as from 1 January 1961.

Almost 20 years later, on 29 May 1980, Graham died in Canberra Hospital following surgery. In the 20-year interval Graham established himself, in the English speaking world, as a scholar of very rare quality.

He came from a low income family and originally perceived no prospect other than employment in business at the end of his meritorious Grammar School career. The war, some hair raising forced landings as a navigator ferrying damaged planes around the Pacific and the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme altered that perception.

In 1946 Graham enrolled at Melbourne University from which, with the highest honours, he moved to Cambridge. There he pursued his deep interest in the history of economic thought and in British economic history. His book on English profit theory is one of the very distinguished and scholarly studies of British economic thought.

In his 20 years at ANU he built up a major centre of economic history. His interests were never in Australian economic history though he strongly encouraged Australian work. His bent was meticulous scholarship and his research attention shifted towards historical demography. Apart from one study (with Colin Forster) of American demographic experience, he focussed on Britain. From his interest followed path-breaking articles revising British understanding of their own demographic history.

He returned recently to history of economic thought and achieved a brilliant piece of detection in determining the authorship by William Huskisson on an important hitherto anonymous, publication.

Graham was a brilliant and witty man who knew how to enjoy good company. It is a tragedy for Australian (and British) scholarship that for the greater part of his period at ANU, he was afflicted by physical illnesses beginning in his Cambridge days.

He sustained to the end a full teaching load and enjoyed close, friendly relations with students who respected his high teaching abilities. But illness greatly impeded his work, forced a contraction of his ambitions and interests and led, sadly, to his untimely death. Trout fishing that he loved was abandoned; he had to be content to be the envious listener to the 'tall stories' of others.

But in teaching and University administration he forced himself to function at the highest level, brushing illness aside. He was twice a member of Council and served on several Council committees. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Economics on three occasions.

In his last years his only concession was: 'All I want is a new body'. But he went on. His finals words were to his wife: 'Take care of yourself and drive carefully'

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Citation details

Noel Butlin, 'Tucker, Graham Shardalow Lee (1924–1980)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/tucker-graham-shardalow-lee-977/text978, accessed 25 November 2017.

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