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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry

Martin Mays smiling at camera

Dr Martin Mays at a Downing alumni event in 2013, courtesy Downing College

We are sad to share the news that our colleague Martin Mays died on Sunday 23 June 2024.

Dr Mays first came to Downing as a Natural Sciences student, matriculating in 1957. He became a lecturer in inorganic chemistry for many years, retiring in 2004.  He was a very active Fellow at Downing College, taking on a range of roles there including Vice Master, Senior Tutor, Admissions Tutor and Director of Studies in Chemistry.

Those of us who knew Martin remember him fondly as a congenial colleague who took his University and College duties very seriously, and always had a twinkle in his eye as he related many an anecdote.

Tributes to Martin from former students and colleagues

My memories of Martin are many - when I arrived in Cambridge, he was most welcoming, if (like many of my new colleagues it seemed) a little eccentric but in the best of ways. He was a highly dedicated teacher of undergraduates; he balanced his life between his many duties in Downing and Lensfield Road with his typical, rather chaotic manner. My endearing memory of him is in the corridor in Lensfield Road outside our offices where, more than once, he walked past me, completely preoccupied, head down and focused on where he was meant to be going next.

Professor Emeritus Catherine E. Constable-Housecroft
University of Basel, Switzerland

Martin was one of the good guys. The term ‘stalwart’ is overused in these circumstances, but it certainly applied to Martin when he was active in research and teaching.

The first reminiscence that springs to mind dates back to 2000, when I was a year one PhD student with Dom [Wright]. Martin appeared next to me in the lab we shared (the Part 1A lab owing to a refurb on floor 3) and, knowing that I was an organometallic chemist, asked if I might like to take a few supervision groups for his Part II lecture course on Organometallics and Catalysis. I was surprised and delighted to be asked. I was less delighted when the next email on the topic was sent to the entire Part II cohort (100 students?) with a cc to me, announcing to them that I’d be arranging supervisions for all of them. Something of a baptism of fire, but we got there in the end. A shorter version: Martin was always keen to involve early-career researchers in his teaching!

Richard Layfield, Professor of Chemistry
University of Sussex

Martin was heavily involved at Downing during my time with him - a lovely man full of enthusiasm and encouragement whom I will always regard as a good friend, who let us get on with our projects with the lightest supervisory touch.

Dr Jonathan Iggo, Reader in Inorganic Chemistry
University of Liverpool

My connexion with Martin goes back to Oct 1966, when I came up to Downing, and where he had recently joined the Fellowship. He was a great supporter of the Alumni Association, and was its Treasurer (26 years), Auditor (14 years) and President - the longest period of service of any officer since its foundation in 1922. As Secretary of the Alumni Association and a Fellow Commoner of Downing, I got to know him well over recent years.

Barrie Hunt,
Retired Education Professional

Martin was an excellent colleague and very supportive of the younger members of the inorganic chemistry staff.  His expertise was in the area of organometallic chemistry and catalysis.  His chemistry was always elegant and innovative.  He maintained a small, but highly productive research group throughout his time in chemistry and several of his students have gone on to hold prestigious posts in industry and academia.

Paul Raithby, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry
University of Bath


If you have memories of Martin that you'd like to share, contact our communications team at