Remembering Robert Stanton

Dr W.R. Stanton (24 February 1923-13 April 2003), one of Rimba Ilmu's founding fathers, passed away in his home in Yorkshire, U.K., at the age of 81. Even near to his last days, he was still actively contributing to the editing of scientific articles and setting up a health drink ("kombucha") business. Working with neighbour Gill Penny on the brewing of the health-giving kombucha tea, Stanton first came across kombucha when he worked for the former Tropical Products Institute and later when he worked in Malaysia. The production of this fermented health drink was successfully commissioned on a commercial scale and exported to UK, Europe and the United States. The drink employed an ancient Chinese formula of herbal brew using tea and a fungus.

A man of imposing stature, both academically as well as physically (he was 6 ft 3 in. tall), Stanton was immensely proud of the Rimba Ilmu Botanic Garden he had helped set up within the University of Malaya campus. At the Symposium held during the ceremonial opening of the Rimba Ilmu in August 1974, he said in his closing address:

"I suggest the golden age of botany is now and not in the 18th century, or some earlier era...we are beginning to find the raison d'etre for the great diversity of plant forms from the lowly algae and liverworts to the most stately trees of our tropical rainforest. The primary object of our new garden has been to provide the stage on which we may continue to act out the drama of Malaya's plant life for the benefit of the community. . ."
This form of statement projects the proactive stance that had always been a hallmark of Professor Stanton's approach to research and knowledge and, later, to conservation. He last visited the Rimba Ilmu in 2000 and 2002, highly approving of the many new developments in visitor education and plant conservation at the Garden.

Born in London, Robert Stanton obtained his BSc from Reading in 1944 and a PhD from London in 1952. He was a Life Fellow of the Institute of Biology and also the Institute of Food Science and Technology. He held a number of career assignments, as follows:
1944-1948 Scientific officer, Long Ashton Research Station, Bristol
1948-1952 Scientific officer, John Innes Institute, Merton, London and Bayfordbury,
                    Hertfordshire
1952-1957 Senior scientific officer, West African Maize Research Unit
1957-1962 Senior Botanist, Northern Nigeria
1964-1970 University of Malaya's Faculty of Agriculture (Head of Plant Science and
                    Dean of Faculty of Agriculture)
1964-1970 Head of Microbiology, Tropical Products Institute, U.K.
1970-1978 Professor of Botany, University of Malaya.

Robert Stanton was active in research on mycotoxins (aflatoxins), rotting in storage of tapioca root, protein enrichment of foods by fermentation using the TEMPE fermentation, and other post-harvest microbial problems of tropical fruits and vegetables. He organized the first UNESCO Symposium on Waste Recovery by Micro-organisms, held in Kuala Lumpur in 1972 and the first International Sago Symposium held in Kuching, Sarawak, in 1976 (other symposia in the "sago" series have followed, in Kuala Lumpur, Thailand, Japan and Indonesia).  He was Guest Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Graz, Austria during 1976-1977 while on sabbatical leave from the University of Malaya. Stanton also directed a Ministry of Information film on "The Sago Industry in Sarawak" in 1974.

From 1979 until his death he was a consultant on tropical agro-industry effluent, such as from the rubber and palm oil industries. He was especially proud of the fact that his work helped to establish the complete treatment of the effluent from rubber, palm oil and industrial (including heavy metal) waste management. This involved the removal of the residual oil and toxic materials in the effluent and elimination of the very high biological oxygen demand. The separation of the solids from the effluent allowed the culture of green algae, which has resulted in fish culture being possible, testimony of the treated effluent having attained the industry's legislated quality standard of the water. Robert Stanton was Editorial Board member of the Reed/Elsevier Journal "Bioresource Technology" and a Committee Member of the North England branch of the Institute for Science and Technology.