‘Questioning and lovely’ Gunther wanted to make a difference
02 August, 2019 — By Calum Fraser
German-born Gunther Kress, who died recently at the age of 79, had an ‘intellectual and political mission’
GUNTHER Kress was a “scholarly giant” who set out to “make a difference”, his friends and family said.
The 79-year-old died last month while he was working in Italy, leaving behind his wife Jill Brewster and four children – Michael, Emily, Rachel and Jonathan.
His funeral was held on Tuesday at Golders Green Crematorium and the wake was in the Tufnell Park Tavern.
The crematorium was packed as, along with friends and family, the whole of his department at the Institute of Education, University College London, went along to pay their respects.
Carey Jewitt, who worked with Mr Kress for 23 years and helped set up the Centre for Multimodal Research in 2006, said: “Gunther was the most curious, lively and creative person that I have worked with. I loved him, we had fun, and he made me think.”
Mr Kress was born in 1940 in Germany before his family moved to Australia where he studied English literature at the University of Newcastle from 1962-66.
Having spent time as a researcher in Germany and at the University of Kent, he returned to his studies, taking a postgraduate course in linguistics at UCL under the late Professor Michael Halliday, who gave him a grounding in social semiotics – the study of how meaning is made through images, language, symbols and other social signs and how power sits within this process.
Ms Jewitt said: “Gunther was a scholarly giant. His intellectual and political mission was to understand and value the many different ways in which people make meaning.” She added that she spent many happy days walking in circles with Mr Gunther trying to “solve our analytical dilemmas”.
Ms Jewitt said: “Gunther has literally and metaphorically walked and talked with many others – always challenging and always interesting – he made ideas move.”
After taking a postgraduate at UCL he moved to a lecturer post at the University of East Anglia. He returned to Australia in 1978, inaugurating the School of Communication and Cultural Studies at the South Australian College of Advanced Education, Adelaide, and later moving to the University of Technology, Sydney, where he was Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
In a prolific career he published 15 books and more than 300 papers from which he was cited more than 70,000 times by other scholars.
After his time in Australia, he moved back to the UK and took up a post at the Institute of Learning.
He moved to Tytherton Road, Tufnell Park, where he pursued one of his other passions, gardening. His casket was decked in wild flowers as a nod to this.
He was honoured with an MBE in 2012 for his services to scholarship.
Jill said: “He was a very questioning and lovely man who wanted to make a difference.”
His long-term friend Shirley Franklin was one of the many students who were inspired by Mr Kress and they formed a friendship that lasted long after her course finished.
She said: “He was a big, gentle, mesmeric character, incredibly warm and sociable. But he was fiercely determined and worked right up until the last.”