Keith Neal (1938-2023)

My friend Keith Neal, who has died aged 84, taught biology at Manchester Grammar School for 23 years. He turned biology from an elite, esoteric A level to one of the most popular subjects at GCSE. As head of department, and ardent environmentalist, he enthused his students through his knowledge and adventurous field trips.

He was an internationalist, taking students to India in 1988 and 1993, and a ground-breaking trip to China for 21 students in the late 1990s.

He went to Africa 26 times. He visited Sierra Leone 15 times between 2002 and 2012 to help deliver courses on the moral foundations of democracy, following brutal civil war.

He was an ambassador for the charity SolarAid. This took him to Kenya in 2018 to promote solar lamps, replacing polluting kerosene lanterns.

Keith established a link between MGS and Busoga College in Uganda, supporting the Busoga Trust and donating money for wells and textbooks. He visited Busoga in 1992, returning there in 1995 and 1999. Mancunians donated 86 computers to Busoga College.

Keith was born on 1 November 1938 in Cirencester, the son of biologist Ernest Neal, a world authority on badgers. His mother Betty (nee Thomson) was also a science graduate.

The parental influence on him was scientific and Christian, his paternal grandfather being a Baptist minister. Keith was a church warden and kept up daily prayer, quiet reflection, and Bible reading. He and I shared a common involvement with the global Initiatives of Change interfaith movement.

When Keith was eight, the family moved from the Cotswolds to Somerset. His father taught biology at Taunton School where Keith was educated. He enjoyed cross country running and summer scout camps.

Keith read Natural Sciences at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He met Ruth (nee Candy) there and they were married in 1965. He became a biology teacher at Harrow County School for 15 years, and at MGS from 1976.

After his retirement in 1999, Keith began litter and rubbish clearing from the streets near his home in Altrincham, in his commitment to saving wildlife and the environment.

Following the Covid lockdown in 2020, Keith started a daily clean-up, covering a three-mile circuit of rural lanes around Wythenshawe and near Manchester Airport. With a litter picker and a bag, he took an average 2.5 hours to walk the three miles. His aim was to have completed 1,000 such circuits, totalling 3,000 miles, before his 85th birthday which would have been this year. In 2022 he collected 1,400 kg of litter, filling 284 large bin bags. His efforts reduced the rubbish in the area by an estimated 25 per cent. He even counted the number of cigarette butts—11,250 in 2022.

Neal died peacefully in his sleep early on Easter Saturday, 8 April.

A keen family man, he is survived by his wife, Ruth, their children, Peter, Margaret and Rob, four grandchildren, and his two younger brothers, David and Andrew.

This obituary first appeared on the website of The Guardian, 18 May 2023, and in the print edition of The Guardian, 10 August 2023.