Obituary Stuart McCutcheon

Stuart Norman McCutcheon (10 November 1954 – 6 January 2023) 

Stuart died Friday 6 January 2023; a shock to all that knew him.

My first connection to Stuart was in 1976 when he opted to take a Genetics paper in the fourth year of his BAgrSc degree at Massey University.  It was my first year of teaching, and so it was a very steep learning curve for me.  The main experimental component was to use fruit flies to demonstrate Mendelian inheritance for eye colour.  Much of the experiment went well except that Stuart and his class mates were a bit stingy with the chloroform to anaesthetise the flies, resulting in some (fortunately random) escapees getting into the nearby dairy lab.  I had a visit from an irate professor telling me to sort my students out, pass the chloroform!

We were both Junior Lecturers undertaking our PhDs in the Sheep Husbandry Department with Professor Al Rae as our boss.  Stuart was investigating thermoregulation in lambs, which involved a lot of hands-on experimental work at the Animal Physiology Unit.  Some of the trials involved 24 hour surveillance of the lambs, so makeshift beds and meals were the order of the day.  During the intensive periods of animal work, it was common for several postgrad students to pitch in to help – as Stuart did when others had the same requirement.

After completing his PhD (entitled: A study of some factors affecting the resistance of newborn lambs to cold-stress with particular reference to starvation and exposure mortality), Stuart was successful in gaining a Harkness Foundation Fellowship to undertake Postdoctoral Study at Cornell University.  He took this up in 1982, and spent 2 years working on bovine somatotropin (growth hormone) with Professor Dale Bauman.  This was an incredibly active area of research, with Dale being the guru of the time.  Stuart and Deborah made many lifelong friends during their time at Cornell.

Stuart returned to Massey University in 1984 and we soon put our heads together to design a collaborative research project utilising our respective skills in physiology and genetics.  Selection for increased growth hormone (GH) to increase milk production and / or liveweight gain was quickly discarded as GH is released in a pulsatile fashion throughout the day, so we opted for a downstream hormone Insulin Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) which was more stable.  Our first collaborative research grant application scored us $1200 from the Massey University Agricultural Research Foundation to undertake an IGF-1 selection experiment in mice.  However, we did not have the capability to measure IGF-1.  Stuart had met Professor Peter Gluckman while he was at Cornell, so we flew to Auckland to convince him to join us as a collaborator, he agreed, and this led to a long-term research collaboration between the 3 of us and others in Peter’s group.

Although Stuart had a stellar research and teaching career in front of him, he had always aspired to be an academic administrator.  On one occasion he told me that he wanted to follow in his Dad’s (Wellington Town Clerk) footsteps.  And so when Professor Robert Anderson relinquished the Head of Animal Science role, Stuart became Head of Department in 1990.  Stuart achieved much in his 4 years as Head of Department, but one that was particularly important was the decision to extramuralise the majority of our animal science papers.  However, it wasn’t just a directive to get it done, Stuart arranged regular workshops run by educationalists to ensure that the material prepared was suitable for distance learners.  This one decision has continued to benefit the Massey University Animal Science Group to the current day.

Stuart’s administrative capabilities were soon noticed by the Vice Chancellor (Dr Neil Waters) and he was attracted into the Senior Team to lead the research portfolio.  Initially, in 1994, this was a secondment, but Stuart soon became the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research).  In 2000, Stuart was appointed Vice Chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington.  He held this position until 2004 when he was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Auckland, a position which he held until 2020.  During his administrative terms, Stuart impressed with his ability to distil diverse needs and opinions into sound decisions.  Of course, not everyone could be satisfied, academics have diverse thoughts, resulting in some being disappointed in Stuart’s decision.  However, in the main, the majority felt they had at least been heard, even if their position was not the one that carried the day.

A common theme by those who spoke at Stuart’s funeral was his geniality, humour and humility.  For a man who must have been under a reasonable amount of pressure at times, he never let it show and typically had a witty quip suitable for the moment.  It was an honour to have known such a nice person and to be able to call him both a colleague and a friend.

Rest in peace, mate.

Hugh Blair