AN OAK tree has been planted in memory of an academic who helped a Japanese university take root in the North-East.

Former Durham University Pro-Vice Chancellor Prof John Clarke, who died last May, was instrumental in a securing a deal that saw Japan’s Teikyo University setting up a branch in the city.

Among those attending the ceremony were 20 medical students and ten of economics course students from the main campus in Tokyo, who are studying English in Durham for two weeks.

The tree was planted by the principal of Teikyo University of Japan in Durham, Professor Masao Imaseki, along with two of Prof Clarke’s three daughters, Gemma Forster and Lucy Brazg-Carrell.

Mrs Brazg-Carrell said: "This is special for lots of reasons. It is at the heart of Durham, which my father loved so much, and in this college with its incredible international linkages.

"He literally didn’t care about material things. Trees did mean something to him. He really did believe in nature. And this would have given him great pleasure."

Mrs Foster added: "He came to Durham University in 1954 as a lecturer in the geography department and spent about 40 years working for university rising to the post of pro vice-chancellor.

"He was the most charming man. He also had a past. When he did his PhD as a 21-year-old, he was in north Africa on a motorbike.

"He drove around the continent before the days of mobile phones and the internet. He honed his language skills and went to the Sorbonne in Paris to do his doctorate. He was quite an adventurer as a young man."

Mrs Brazg-Carrell said: "As pro vice-chancellor, he was director of development and clearly spent a lot of his career focussed on the expansion of the university at a time of incredible growth.

"My father was always looking for opportunities to build relationships with other organisations and this was one of the relationship he was proudest of building – a link with Teikyo University and coming up with this project.

"He was a geographer so international relations was important to him.

"He loved being with people from different cultures and also passionately believed that peace would only be established by people getting to know each other and living alongside each other."

A deputy Lieutenant of County Durham, Prof Clarke, retired from Durham University in 1990. He was awarded an OBE for his services to the community. He served for six years as chairman of the Durham and its successor North Durham health authorities.

In 1988, he signed an historic agreement with Dr Shoichi Okinaga for a Japanese cultural centre and overseas branch of the Japanese university, which was established two years later.