Wesley Semple was born in Belfast and educated at the Methodist College Belfast. He won an open scholarship to Queen’s College, Oxford where he read Greek, Latin and Philosophy. In 1969 he returned to Belfast to teach Classics at the Methodist College and then at Campbell College. He also became a part time tutor for the Open University, a position he still held at his untimely death.
Most members of the club will remember Wesley for his great interest in and knowledge of botany. It was this interest that first attracted him to the Field Club in 1984. After attending a class on botany conducted by Dr Ralph Forbes, at Queen’s University, he was keen to develop this newly acquired skill so it was suggested that he should join the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club. Wesley’s initial contact with Ralph Forbes was only the beginning of their association and friendship, as he not only attended Ralph’s field trips to the Burren but also conducted very successful joint botanical/archaeological study tours to Greece and Italy with him. As a member of the BNFC, Wesley enjoyed botanical field trips and acknowledged the great role that John Wilde and Stan Beasley played in the development of his knowledge of the Irish Flora. He agreed with Robert Lloyd Praeger when he wrote in The Way That I Went “I owe a great deal of the interest and pleasure of which my life is full to those early associations with the sturdy workers of the Belfast Field Club.” Wesley also joined the Botanical Society of the British Isles and served for a term on the Irish committee. He was very honoured to succeed Stan Beesley as BSBI vice county recorder for Antrim, and in 2005 he had the proud but sad task of planting a tree in Stan’s memory, on behalf of the club.
Wesley first served on BNFC committee from 1988 to 1990 and was involved in a successful recruitment drive that had been instigated by the president, Philip Doughty. Wesley not only recruited his wife Joan and children David and Abigail but he introduced at least two past presidents to the club.
He had a very inquiring mind and the Field Club provided him with great mental stimuli. Although his love of archaeology was firmly rooted in Greek and Roman culture, he took a keen interest in local archaeology and was a member of the Ulster Archaeological Society. His tongue in cheek asides of “not my period” belied a considerable knowledge of the Irish Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages.
During the past few years, he became fascinated by geology and took every opportunity to avail himself of the knowledge disseminated by the geologists in both the BNFC and the Belfast Geologists’ Society. This also gave him an excuse to expand his already considerable library, and books about geology vied for shelf space with books about botany, ancient Greece and Rome and an enormous number of Greek and Roman texts.
His teaching in Campbell College and the Open University meant that he was not able to commit himself to holding office in the club, despite many requests to do so. However, when he retired from full time teaching, he was able to accept Marion Allen’s offer of becoming her vice president in 2004. (The promise of truffles might have had some bearing on his decision!). Wesley was quietly enthusiastic and conscientious about his work as a teacher and he bought these aptitudes to his role as president of the club. His presidential address in February 2006 was a retrospective journey to places he loved dearly – the ancient sites of Greece. In his address, he was able to integrate his newly acquired knowledge of geology with his long-term profound understanding of Greek archaeology, with a bit of botany thrown in for good measure.
Wesley was a quiet, unassuming man who never flaunted his knowledge and liked to quote his mentor, Socrates “I know one thing, that is I know nothing” Despite his busy working life and many interests, he was a devoted family man who derived great pleasure from the achievements of his children. Therefore, at the last committee meeting he attended, in January 2007, he was very proud when his daughter Abigail was proposed as a member of committee. His intellectual curiosity, knowledge and gentle humour are a great loss to the club.
Joan L. Semple
John Wesley David Semple (1945-2007)