Professor John Cockburn presents tributes to Tim

Tributes to Tim

In the past few weeks we’ve received a huge number of tributes to Tim. These convey not just the huge sense of loss that we as a community, and as individuals, feel at Tim’s passing, but also the great joy he brought us and the gratitude we feel for being fortunate enough to have had him in our lives.

Of course, we only have time today to hear and reflect on a small fraction of these, but hopefully the chosen extracts will clearly show how deeply we all feel about Tim as a teacher, scientist, colleague and friend.

Tim was an absolutely wonderful teacher, who combined his legendary lecturing skills with seemingly endless warmth, concern and genuine affection for his students. He made an indelible impression on many generations of undergraduates during his 21 years in the Department, becoming not just their teacher but also their friend, mentor and, as many have referred to him, their adopted “Uncle Tim”.  This is reflected in the many heartfelt tributes that have been paid to him from current and former undergraduates. Here is just a very small sample:

GARY: (former undergraduate) As an ex student of Tim’s I can honestly say I have never met a more genuine, friendly and approachable person than Tim.  Tim was an inspiration to all my classmates and others around the department.  Famed for his typical “Dad” jokes, and excellent sense of humour Tim was a firm favourite of all and the one person many of us could count on when the stresses of academic life took their toll.  A great loss to the world.

DEEPAK: (former undergraduate) Tim was the kindest, most generous person I ever had the pleasure of knowing. He would always take the time to talk to me. He helped me so much from my first day to the day I graduated.  I will forever be grateful to him for all that he did for me.

ANDY (PhD student) Tim is a massive inspiration to me and one of the main reasons why I continued on through the hard times and made it to the end of my degree.  He inspired me over and over again and I cannot stress highly enough how grateful I am to him for all the support he afforded me over the years.

SAM: Genuinely one of the greatest people I ever had the good fortune to meet, absolutely fantastic guy and amazing tutor.

As well as being a brilliant teacher, Tim was also a very gifted and prolific researcher who, as we’ll hear later produced over 150 publications and supervised almost 30 PhD students during his time in Sheffield.  Here are some of the many tributes from postgraduate students who worked with him, who Tim himself referred to as his “research family”:

ROSIE BROOK: You were a wonderful person Tim, you made such a difference to my life.   You were the most amazing supervisor and friend. I would never have succeeded without you. You inspired me and supported me and were so much fun. We shall miss you such a lot.

LIZA JONES: Farewell Timbo, you were the best PhD supervisor a girl could wish for, without your support I’m not sure I’d have succeeded. You were the most genuine, humorous and inspirational person and you will be missed.

JULIE SPEAKMAN:  Oh Tim, we are all so lucky to have had you in our lives at some point. You were a pleasure to work with and are an inspiration to so many people. I will always remember you with such fondness and respect. Thank you so much for all your help and time and laughter over the years.

In terms of Tim’s research, I think the most fitting tribute is the display that Alan Dunbar and Martin Grell have set up in the Austin Room in the Hicks Building, which gives detailed summaries of some of Tim’s most important and influential publications.

As a colleague, Tim was an absolute joy to those of us who worked with him, and to many of us he became a very dear and special friend. We’ll shortly hear in detail, in the Tribute from David Mowbray, about his immense contribution to the life and work of the department. I’d just like to read here two very moving personal tributes, beginning with the words of Lee Thompson.

It’s impossible to summarise an individual as special as Tim in a short passage of prose. For a start there are so many adjectives to describe Tim: thoughtful, kind, considerate, selfless, genuine, funny, honest, compassionate, the list goes on and on.  Tim always made time for you, he treated everyone as equals and always put you at ease. Over our many pub lunches together Tim became a close friend and confidante. We would spend our lunch hour catching up with each others lives, sharing hopes and aspirations, putting the world to rights and trying to avoid sounding like grumpy old men. One thing that shone through all of my time with Tim was his tremendous love for his family and his pride for their achievements. Tim excelled in so many things away from the workplace, from painting to DIY, from learning languages to music; Tim’s zest for life was contagious and inspirational.

 Tim handled his prognosis in the same irrepressible way as he approached life, looking for the positives. He sought to turn bad into good, seeking to help others through writing a diary and establishing a charity. He battled the disease with humour, honesty and dignity.

Tim was a dear friend and very special person, I miss him.

And here are the words of Roger Olivant, our former Departmental Superintendent, who worked with Tim from his earliest days in Sheffield:

I have many memories of Tim both as a colleague and a friend.  We got on well from the day we met, which was on his first visit to the Physics Department prior to his official start date. Tim and Professor Gareth Roberts came to discuss, among other things, the requirements for the research lab space we’d offered him on his appointment.  From that very first day we hit it off and became not only colleagues but also very good friends. Tim was really pleased that we could not only offer him a “clean room” but also some technical workshop support to modify it. He did say later on that he had thought he was going to have to do the modification on his own. .
In those early days we used to meet up at the Goodwin Recreation Centre, or walk up together at lunchtimes for a run. My memories of those lunch times  are of chatting about  all sorts of things while running round taking our minds off work. Then afterwards, walking back to the department and perhaps chatting about work related issues. 
I am sure it has been said many times before but the way he dealt with his illness is a lesson to us all and his legacy will live on in the Department and the University for many years to come. I only hope that if it ever happens to me I am able to take inspiration from Tim’s attitude and act in the same way. 
God bless.

One of Tim’s great gifts was his ability to reach out to the wider community, both within and outside the University, to communicate his love of science and of life in general with such enthusiasm. As an example of the impact he made in this area, here are the words of Ruth Arnold, director of Corporate Communications, who, as she says herself, never met Tim personally, but nevertheless strongly felt his influence and presence:

I would like to write a tribute to a man I never met in person. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t met him in other ways. I have met his influence in others. I have seen the way his love of teaching, his spirit of fun, his honesty and his energy move them. And I have had the very great privilege of reading his own personal thoughts about life and meaning in his beautiful book which I was honoured to help publish and whose words affected me deeply. I also met him through the 24 hour lectures, a legacy of curiosity and joy, mixed up with students and staff talking about their ideas in their dressing gowns. Sometimes a person impacts others in ways they might never imagine, without ever claiming to be a saint. The evidence of who Tim was is visible in so many ways, and it is very beautiful.

 Finally, I think the most fitting way to end this section is, as we started it, with a representative tribute from our students, the group of women and men to whom Tim was so devoted. This is from Rachel O’Leary, who graduated last year:

The last time I saw Tim he was crossing the road outside Ranmoor Village, presumably going to visit his son. I was in such a hurry that I didn’t even stop to let him cross but had I known the sad news that was to follow, I would have got out of the car and had a chat. He was the most supportive and enthusiastic lecturer I have ever known and no problem was too big or small to be dealt with; he was a friendly face for everyone. He was such a genuine bloke, nothing he ever did seemed to be for the glory, but his Senate Award for Excellence in Learning and Teaching could not have been more deserved. The fortitude and selflessness with which he faced his final months is truly amazing and with his inspiration, I hope to face my own times of adversity with similar courage and good humour. It was an absolute honour to have known Tim and the lasting impression he made on those around him will certainly live on as his charity, Inspiration for Life, goes from strength to strength.


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