Donald Preece Memorial Page

On Thursday, 17 September 2015, in the Fogg Lecture Theatre and the Great Hall at Queen Mary University of London, a memorial day was held for Donald Preece, statistician, combinatorialist, and organist.

This page will remain as a record of the event and a repository for material about the lectures and about Donald. We invite contributions: please send material or links of any kind to Peter Cameron (

The day's programme is given below. (FB=Fogg lecture theatre and foyer, GH=Great Hall and foyer.) Links are to slides from some of the talks and the programme notes for the organ recital.

Donald Preece


Lunch and the early afternoon session including the organ recital took place in the Great Hall. Other events, including the cream tea, were in the Fogg building.

The day ended with a reception and dinner in the Senior Common Room.

A printable schedule of the day is available here.

Donald Preece: brief life

Donald Arthur Preece was born on 2 October 1939 and died on 6 January 2014. While at school, he had to make a choice between mathematics and music; he chose the former, but music remained a lifelong interest.

After graduating from St Andrews and a year in Cambridge, he took a job at Rothamsted Experimental Station in Harpenden, in 1963. He remained there until 1969. During his time at Rothamsted, he became interested in experimental design. Among other things, he set up the Rothamsted Manor Recitals.

In his next position in Canterbury, he began moving from statistics into combinatorics, attending the 4th British Combinatorial Conference in Aberystwyth in 1973. After spells in Australia, again at Rothamsted (where he was involved with mentoring new staff), and at the East Malling Research Station in Kent, he returned to the University of Kent in 1987.

In 1999, when at short notice the British Combinatorial Conference found itself without a home, Donald stepped up, and with John Lamb's help, he organised and ran a successful meeting in Kent. He became a regular attendee at the Conferences, and organised the Conference concert for many years.

On his 60th birthday, he moved to Queen Mary, University of London, to take up a post as professorial fellow. In London, he began or continued several projects: as well as work with mathematical and statistical colleagues, he joined the users of the Mile End climbing wall, and progressed to abseiling down tall buildings or climbing old industrial chimneys. His career as a climber was, unfortunately, brought to a halt by a detached retina.

He spent a lot of time on a detailed survey of the organs in the East End of London, talking to vicars and organists and poking around in organ-lofts. He wrote a book on the pipe-organs of the East End and typeset it himself; it was published by Queen Mary in 2013. He was also deeply involved in the restoration of the Rutt organ in the Great Hall of Queen Mary. One of Donald's compositions was played at the concert which inaugurated the refurbished organ.

Over the Christmas break in 2013/4, which he spent (as usual) in Edinburgh, he was taken to the Western General Hospital, where he died of a brain haemorrhage.


Some links about Donald Preece:

Pictures from the memorial day:


The organisers are grateful to the speakers and to the support staff at Queen Mary for their hard work which contributed to the success of the day.

The meeting was supported financially by the School of Mathematical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, the QMUL Combinatorics Research Group and the QMUL Data Analysis and Statistics Research Group, and the British Combinatorial Committee, in association with the Royal Statistical Society and the British and Irish Region of the International Biometric Society. The organisers are grateful for the support.

Queen Mary, University of London
School of Mathematical Sciences
British Combinatorial Committee
RSS logo BIRTIBS logo

R. A. Bailey, P. J. Cameron, L. H. Soicher
18 September 2015