The primary focus of his work was on the effects, reverberating across space, which are created by everything from sun-like stars to supermassive black holes, and over a period of 40 years it influenced science on six continents. His approach was that of a deep thinker who saw connections.
Born in Meltham, John went to Harrogate Grammar School and then
Cockburn High School in Leeds, where he became head boy.
He remained true to his heritage throughout his entire life, and would
jokingly boast that even when he was obliged to live in London as a student of physics at Kings College, he refused to let the Thames come between him and Yorkshire.
It was when he was a student that he met Rita Lawton at the Majestic Ballroom in Leeds; there followed romance and marriage.
In 1962, he obtained a first class BSc special honours degree in
physics from Kings College London and in 1966 he was awarded a PhD after conducting his postgraduate research under the supervision of Franz Kahn in the Department of Astronomy at Manchester University.
Awarded a Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Fellowship and then a
Fulbright Fellowship, he spent the following year at Wisconsin University before joining the academic staff at Manchester University where he became the Professor of Astronomy and the head of Astrophysics.
Dr Dyson took a sabbatical in the Max-Planck-Institut fr Astrophysik in 1977-78, and went on to make frequent return visits to Munich over
the next two decades. In April 1996, he left Manchester permanently and moved to Leeds University. Upon his retirement from full-time employment in 2006, he became a research professor. The title of emeritus professor was also conferred upon him.
With David Williams he was co-author of The Physics of the Interstellar Medium, an influential text book for aspiring professional
astrophysicists. He also wrote and edited other books for a wide audience, from the scientifically curious non-specialist to the expert. For more than a dozen years he was also editor-in-chief of Astrophysics and Space Science.
His intuition and analytical skills were formidable, and he
collaborated effortlessly with observers as well as other theorists and computational astrophysicists.
The scientist aside, this quick-witted and sociable man not only amused those with whom he came in contact, but his kindness, generosity and the warmth of his personality earned their affection. Many young scientists, moving to Leeds to work in his department, stayed in the Dyson home for as long as it took them find their own places.
He followed cricket and football closely, and was fascinated by history, his orientation towards people shaping his deepest historical interests. He liked to learn and imagine how people lived, whether the subject was a woman living at a Roman fort in Northern England anticipating her birthday, or a Victorian child struggling in a mill. His humanity translated old stones into human lives, and these moved him.
Dr Dyson is survived by his wife Rita and their four children Tim, Penny, Peter, and Lucy, and by seven grandchildren.