Professor Emerita Mary Earle: A life dedicated to food technology and scholastic endeavour

It is with great sadness that the Riddet Institute acknowledges the passing of Professor Emerita Mary Earle, who died last week, aged 91.

Mary was a stalwart of Food Technology at Massey and joined the University in 1965. She was a trailblazer – championing the food technology degree and discipline over nearly 30 years before her retirement in 1994 – and working alongside her husband Professor Richard (Dick) Earle. She spearheaded the discipline of product development within food technology that we know today. Mary championed women in the workplace, assisted with industry recruitment, and set the department up for success – making Massey the leading educator of food technology in New Zealand. She will be greatly missed.

Mary trained as a Scottish chemical engineer. She worked at the Meat Industry Research Institute in New Zealand from 1961 before joining Massey University, where she would remain until the end of her career. Massey University was New Zealand’s first university to offer a Bachelor of Food Technology in 1964. She realised there was a gap in teaching this subject and she applied her engineering skills to make improvements. Over time, as the first female academic engineer in New Zealand, she made Massey University a leader in the field. Mary developed the Food Technology Research Centre, a means for industry to bring their issues to the university for technical help.

Mary retired in 1994 with a string of accolades and having shaped the New Zealand food industries. She was recognised by Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand (IPENZ) becoming an Honorary Fellow and the New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology (NZIFST), winning the annual JC Andrews Award and becoming an Honorary Fellow. She was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and received an Honorary Doctorate from Khon Kaen University in Thailand.

Following retirement, Mary and Dick continued to work together. They continued to mentor students (their pastoral care for students and visitors was legendary) and they shared philanthropic ideals developing scholarship and grant programmes. Their biggest legacy is the Earle Creativity and Development Trust in the Manawatū/ Rangitikei, nurturing innovative ideas and talent across four domains – science and technology, literature and history, music, and the visual and fine arts.

In recognition of long contribution to Massey University, the Earle’s were awarded two high university honours. They are joint holders of the 2014 Massey Medal, awarded as the School of Food Technology celebrated its 50th anniversary; and both received a Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) in 2018.

Mary was always very supportive of the Riddet Institute Centre of Research Excellence. The centre was established in 2008 and funding was allocated to provide scholarships for the top students. Mary (and Dick) kindly leant their name to the fund, as a reflection of excellence in food research and it became known as the Riddet Institute Earl Postgraduate Scholarships Fund. Mary always took a keen interest in the Institute and the students who received the scholarships. The support Mary showed to the programme as it was established was gratefully received, as was her investment in our success.

It was with sadness but also a celebration of a true scholar and pioneering academic, that many of her colleagues and friends farewelled Mary on Saturday 24th April with a service in Turakina. Massey University and the Riddet Institute shared their condolences with Professor Emeritus Richard Earle and the extended family.

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