Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial: Passing of a Seasoned Campaigner

Richard Waller does not introduce Ariadne Issue 60.

Understandably enough, here at UKOLN everyone's chins have been on the floor since the news of the death of Rachel Heery reached us last week. Rachel retired as Deputy Director in 2007 and in the years that she worked as the team leader of UKOLN R&D she left an indelible mark on the field in which she worked [1] and still remained professionally active in retirement despite her illness. Thanks to the tributes written by her friends and colleagues, I need but direct you to their descriptions of her work and way of working [2].

When I joined the organisation I soon learnt that Rachel might be absent in the geographical sense but oh so very present in cyberspace as she joined some argument proceeding on one of our internal lists well after 'end of business' (at UKOLN a term poorly understand at best) and from some hotel room in (wherever the reader may please) during one of her frequent journeys [3]. That is assuming, of course, that she had not started the argument herself which she frequently did, in pursuit, as so many have observed, of the unalloyed truth of a purpose, standard, function, deliverable or outcome. Nor did she allow herself to be brow-beaten by blinding science which she could detect at 10,000 metres.

As a consequence, I soon worked out the reason why I might not always receive an immediate response from her over some work-related query; she would still be scaling her personal email mountain which required double crampons and an oxygen set. Yet, mysteriously, completely unexpectedly, a response to some personal query, for example in the context of compassionate leave, would come back astonishingly quickly. Rachel would push colleagues' concerns to the front of the queue.

Lorcan Dempsey's observation about the 'dreary paperwork, the endless proposals' [4] will doubtless strike a chord with many and Rachel waded through silos of the stuff for precisely the reasons he attributes, 'to get the job done.' I well recall seeing her in her office at the dog-end of a Friday afternoon collating feedback from four points of the compass (and in every conceivable format) to finalise a project proposal that was due within the hour. Though we managed to persuade her to accept some assistance, she would have battled on without complaint and her trademark imperturbability. Of course a smart-alec management consultant would doubtless remark on the matter of leaving matters till the last moment, until someone could take him on one side and explain that it was probably the third or fourth proposal that Rachel had written that week.

Even by the time she retired in 2007 [5] I was still discovering things that Rachel would have omitted to mention to anyone and, thanks to the words of her colleagues who attended her retirement reception, one learnt of how much she had influenced new and fellow practitioners in her field and indeed the exceptional role model she unwittingly provided for young women in a male-dominated arena [6].

Asking a fellow pedestrian the way to the funeral service, I discovered, in the pouring rain, one of Rachel's neighbours and fellow parishioner. Realising I was a colleague, she asked me what exactly Rachel, whom she seemed to know quite well, did professionally; I did my best. Rachel's husband Mike, in his tribute during the service, fared far better, and the overwhelming majority of the congregation, I thought, was quite amazed to learn of her globe-trotting work and the importance with which it was regarded. For our part, we, her colleagues, who had always wondered how she managed such a responsible job as well as a family, discovered she was a pillar of the community and a committed Christian who was a support to the local NCT group [7], her church's primary school, and more besides.

So even when she left us standing outside St. Bonaventure's, I realised that once more Rachel's modesty had caught me napping. I had been dreading the service, I freely admit, but by the end that wry sense of humour and no-nonsense of hers had worked its will and I left, wondering how on earth she managed it all, and all so deftly.

I hope you will enjoy Issue 60.


  1. Tribute from UKOLN colleagues http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/ukoln/staff/rachel-heery-tribute/
  2. Rachel Bruce, 31 July 2009 http://infteam.jiscinvolve.org/2009/07/31/rachel-heery/
    Lorna M. Campbell, Lorna's JISC CETIS blog, 28 July 2009 http://blogs.cetis.ac.uk/lmc/2009/07/28/rachel-heery/
    Stu Weibel, Weibel Lines, 28 July 2009 http://weibel-lines.typepad.com/weibelines/2009/07/rachel-heery-a-remembrance.html
  3. Andy Powell's blip: Monday 27 July 2009:" And rest" http://www.blipfoto.com/view.php?id=337042&month=7&year=2009
  4. Lorcan Dempsey's Weblog, 29 July 2009 http://orweblog.oclc.org/archives/001991.html
  5. 'Rachel Heery Retires', Focus on UKOLN Newsletter, December 2007, Issue 19 http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/focus/issue19/#19.0
  6. Sarah Currier comment on Lorna Campbell's blog entry (c.f. 2. above) http://blogs.cetis.ac.uk/lmc/2009/07/28/rachel-heery/#comments
  7. NCT (National Childbirth Trust) http://www.nctpregnancyandbabycare.com/about-us

Author Details

Richard Waller
Ariadne Editor

Email: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/

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