One of the dangers of writing a blog is that you can get too fond of the sound of your own voice. The temptation is to make the blog about you rather than issues of substance. Hopefully I have avoided this particular pitfall over the last few years. This week, though, I want to make an exception and say a few words about my colleague, Michael O Connell, who died last week.
Mick, as us old-timers called him, came to NIHE Dublin in 1985 when that institution was about one fifth of the size of the current DCU. He and another former colleague, Thecla Ryan, had offices in the since-demolished ‘John Barry’ building while the rest of us were based in the close-by prefab which was given the undeserved title of the ‘Hamstead’ building. And that was the way he liked it. He was, in essence, an introvert.
A microbiologist by training, whose expertise was in bacterial genetics, Mick was a serious scientist who eschewed the modern tendency to favour quantity over quality. He was not a prolific researcher but his papers were long, detailed and significant. He had a great knack of recruiting the very best of research students, something that spoke volumes about the esteem in which he was held by undergraduates.
Mick was a conservative man who felt uneasy about change but he was not a reactionary. He was an old school academic who cared deeply about the welfare of all students and who was uncomfortable with the general tone of the modern university. Despite that, he got on with his job and worked hard with no little dignity.
An articulate man, Mick had great integrity and it says something about him that when his term as Acting Head of School ended, it was greeted with huge disappointment by everyone in our school. He ran the school with exceptional fairness and openness. Indeed some of us were angry with him when he passed on the baton and it is only now that I, for one, appreciate that our decisions in life are made for all sorts of complex reasons, many of which are known to few beyond those closest to us.
Over Christmas lunch I had a long chat with Mick in which I urged him not to consider early retirement. “Slow down “ I urged him and “freewheel towards retirement”. I told him that the system needed people like him; people with bucket loads of experience and no little wisdom. A few weeks ago we had another chat in my office in which he expressed the view that academia had passed a tipping point – as he called it. He felt that academia had lost its way and he seemed a bit worn out by it all.
Mick will be hugely missed in our school. And I will miss the chats about golf, about Sligo Rovers and the way his shoulders used to shake when he got the giggles.