Great-nephew of former Lincoln Principal makes flying visit to campus

08 December 2021 | News

He’s used to flying under the radar, but the relative of a well-known Lincoln figure attracted some attention recently when he dropped into campus to donate several fly specimens to the university.

Malcolm Wheeler is the great-nephew and namesake of a previous Lincoln Principal, Sir Malcolm Burns, but he had never set foot in the Burns Wing – also named after the eminent former staff member  – until last week.

The multi-storeyed teaching building is home to the Lincoln University Entomology Research Collection, where Mr Wheeler brought several fly specimens that he had spotted in his lounge during a particularly warm early summer day.

“I had never seen any flies that looked like this before, so I wanted to find out more about them,” he said.

Entomology Research Collection Curator John Marris identified the insects as endemic soldier flies – an unidentified species of Neactina. The specimens will be added to the research collection, which serves as one of the largest and most comprehensive entomological collections in the country.

Mr Wheeler’s visit to the Burns Building may have been his first, but he had spent time on campus before. He recalled plenty of childhood afternoons at the Lodge, where Sir Malcolm and his family lived during his time as Principal of the college.

An agricultural scientist with a passion for farming, Sir Malcolm worked at Lincoln as a senior lecturer in soil science from 1937-48. However, his longest association with the institution was as Principal (the equivalent of today’s Vice-Chancellor) between 1952 and 1974.

His time at the helm was marked by growth in the student roll, an upgrade of the physical facilities and an increase in academic standards.

One of his key legacies lies in his facilitation of Lincoln’s strong research focus, which has gained international recognition after he worked tirelessly to attract good researchers to the college.

Sir Malcolm retired in 1974, and two years later, the Burns Wing was constructed to commemorate his significant contribution to the institution. He passed away in 1986, four years before the college became an independent university.

His great nephew, Mr Wheeler, enjoyed visiting the building that honoured his late relative.

“He did a lot of important work at Lincoln,” he said.

“I knew him as ‘Uncle Bob’. I’m not sure where that came from, since his first name was Malcolm. But for me, he was always ‘Uncle Bob’.”

PHOTO: Fly collection brings Burns connection to Lincoln - Malcolm Wheeler (left) with the fly specimens he brought to campus and Lincoln University Entomology Collection Curator John Marris.