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Obituary: Professor Nigel Barrie Reginald Reeves OBE


Born just weeks into the Second World War, Nigel Reeves would devote his professional life to conciliation with the country that had caused two catastrophic upheavals and to the understanding and promotion of German language and culture. 

After modern language studies at Merchant Taylors’ School and graduating from Worcester College, Oxford University with a First Class degree, Reeves began his teaching career at the University of Lund as a lecturer in English. There he met his first wife. She, with their son Dominic and daughter Anna, survived him, living in Sweden. 

Having gained his Doctorate at St John’s College Oxford, Reeves held successive distinguished academic posts in England, first at Reading University as a lecturer in German. 

An Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship took Reeves to Tübingen University in 1974, where he completed an acclaimed work on the poetry and politics of Heinrich Heine. There followed in 1978 publications on Friedrich Schiller and Heinrich von Kleist.

Reeves’ first Professorship was at the University of Surrey from 1975 to 1990, where he was head of the Department of Linguistics and International Studies and Dean of the Faculty of Human Studies. It was now that Reeves developed his talent for relating academic excellence to practical matters such as business, law and the public promotion of European languages. His achievements were recognised by the award of the OBE in the New Year Honours of 1987.

Reeves’ horizons widened to include other fields and institutions: Guest Professor at Royal Holloway College (London University), Visiting Professor at the European Business School, Senior Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at Hamburg University, Chairman of Council of the Institute of Linguists, President of the National Association of Language Advisors and Chairman of the National Congress on Languages in Education. All showed his breadth of learning and determination to further the educational causes in which he so strongly believed. In Reeves’ own words: “A main target of German studies abroad must be to place students in the position to deal effectively in the German-speaking world”. 

In 1990 Reeves moved to Aston University as Professor of German and Head of the Department of Modern Languages. He would become Pro-Vice-Chancellor for External Relations, in which role he promoted study in Britain for foreign students, especially from the Far East. Reeve’ high reputation led also to appointments at the Open University and the University of Buckingham. 

Reeves was admired as a popular colleague and team worker, as shown by the wide variety of publications written in collaboration with fellow academics. These colleagues created a Festschrift in his honour in 1999: Vermittlungen (Medications): German Studies as the Turn of the Century”. In the same year Reeves was awarded the Order of Merit from the German Government to add to the Goethe Medal he had received in 1989. 

Those acquainted with Reeves’ scholarship, German and British, have applauded his tireless work in advancing the careers of young academics and encouraging academia to recognise the need not only for intellectual development but for preparation to engage with the wider world. 

For all his international interests, Nigel Reeves remained deeply rooted in English society and traditions. He was nowhere happier than at his beloved ancient house and garden, Hartlands, in the Malvern Hills.

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