Obituary - Dr Keith T. H. Farrer
Obituary - Dr Keith T.H. Farrer, OBE, DSc, MA, FTSE, FIAoST, FRSC (1916-2012)
by Dr Ken Manley
Keith Thomas Henry Farrer was born in Footscray on 28th March 1916. His father was Rev Raymond Farrer who served as a greatly loved pastor in Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria and was also President of the Baptist Union of Victoria (1936-37).
Early in Keith’s life the family moved to Tasmania and Keith attended Hobart High School where he came under the influence of an inspiring science master who caught his imagination to such a degree that he resolved immediately to pursue a career as an industrial chemist. When the family returned to Melbourne, he was granted a full Doery Scholarship to Carey Baptist Grammar School and he joined the School in 1930. He was an outstanding student, leader and sportsman, winning the Junior Meeks Silver Medal for leadership, scholarship and games in his first year and the Senior Meeks Gold Medal in 1933. That year he served as Prefect and School Vice-Captain. He was Captain of the XVIII (football), Vice Captain of the XI (cricket) and a member of the Tennis and Athletics Teams.
He studied at the University of Melbourne and graduated as Bachelor of Science in 1936 and as Master of Science two years later. His working life began as a graduate chemist with Kraft Foods Limited in food science and technology. His main field was the maximisation of nutritional value in processed food and, in particular, the measuring of vitamin B1 levels in food and in conserving those levels during heat processing.
His publications are many. He contributed to numerous scientific journals and has written seven books including: To feed a nation: a history of Australian food science and technology (1980) and William Carey: missionary and botanist (2005). This last book exhaustively documents Dr Carey’s work in studying and classifying Indian flora with particular reference to the nutritional value of plants.
Keith served on many scientific committees, institutes and associations. He assisted various government ministries, instrumentalities and departments, including a long-standing secondment to the Department of Health as adviser in food additives, and in Defence, Education and Science, the Environment, and Foreign Affairs. After retiring from Kraft, he represented Australia internationally by giving voluntarily of his time and expertise in raising nutritional standards in ASEAN countries.
At various times Keith was a member of councils and committees within the University of Melbourne, Monash University and other tertiary institutions. He was President of the Old Carey Grammarians Association in 1945-46 (subsequently being awarded an Honoured Life Membership).
He was President of the Baptist Union of Victoria in 1963-64. He served as a deacon at Box Hill Baptist Church for 15 years and at Collins Street Baptist Church for 25 years. A founding member of the Council of Whitley College, Keith remained a member of the Council for 20 years and was appointed a Fellow of the College.
He served Carey for a staggering 45 years as a member of the School Council, including terms as Secretary and Vice-President. His outstanding contribution to the School and the community was formally recognised by the naming of Farrer House in the Kew Junior School in 1980, and by the award of the Carey Medal in 2009.
Keith’s greatest honour – and he acknowledged it to be so – came in 1979 when he was appointed by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, to be an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Keith regarded his life’s work as a sacred duty. He had been given great gifts and sensed an obligation to use them to the full. Keith had no time for those who would prefer to take refuge in a comfortable body of knowledge which required no modification. He took very seriously indeed the great commandment of his Saviour Jesus Christ: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength; and thy neighbour as thyself’. He emphasised the mind and deprecated the position of many who profess to be Christian while ignoring that rather uncomfortable stipulation.
Ron Ham recalled how in 1954 Keith Farrer had encouraged him to form the Clifford Fellowship, an association for Baptist young people undertaking tertiary study. He quoted from a memoir by Keith: ‘In view of my profession, it was inevitable that I should become interested in, and expected to have views on, the perceived conflict between science and religion. I read widely on the subject ...’. Keith made a remarkable contribution to both and deplored the futility of playing one off against the other rather than celebrating how richly both science and religion can complement each other.
This balance was well illustrated by his Presidential Address to the Baptist Union of Victoria in 1963 on ‘The Church in an age of Science’. He encouraged Baptists to welcome free inquiry and ‘calmly evaluate new ideas’ about the Bible, Christianity and public questions. This was a time when theological ferment and social upheaval was creating new problems for the church. Not all Baptists welcomed his approach but most found great encouragement in his honest and open spirit of inquiry.
A memorial service for Dr Farrer was led by Rev Ron Ham at Carey on 15th June, when his family recalled aspects of family life and Mr David Morgan gave a comprehensive and moving eulogy from which some of this detail is drawn.