Student Tribute from Dr Matt Mears

When I was asked to speak on behalf of the many students that Tim has taught, I wasn’t sure what I would say. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because there is so much I want to say. In the 11 years that I have been at Sheffield Tim has always been a source of inspiration and support, so I would like to share some memories I have of him. I know that many others have similar stories to share.

Starting University is a daunting event for most students who often are leaving home for the first time. Thankfully my introduction into the world of university study was done by Tim and his infamous lectures on Mechanics, particularly the demonstrations. It’s a testament to the passion he had for teaching that he spent a lot of time devising and practicing these demos, though I’m certain he enjoyed doing them as much as we enjoyed watching them. One favourite was dubbed the Spinny Tim by his students, and involves a turntable and a lead-lined bicycle wheel.

When Tim did this demo during my first year, he didn’t have a turntable. Instead he had his office chair on the front desk, and would sit and spin around on it with his legs out, bending and stretching to change his speed. Naturally he had stuck a large L and R on the bottom of his shoes, and in true Timbo style these were of course on the wrong feet.  Whilst this sort of humour was always a part of Tim’s lectures, it wasn’t an essential tool in keeping us interested. He was always enthusiastic, passionate about physics and engaging; the jokes were just the icing on the cake. I know that I am one of a number of students whose decision to pursue a career in physics, either research or education, was heavily influence by our experience of Tim as a lecturer.

And his influence in my development as a physicist didn’t end after I graduated, despite not doing my PhD in his research group. Whenever our paths crossed in the department he would always stop and ask how I was getting on. He offered numerous pearls of wisdom over a hot drink in the Austin room, discussing aspects of my research and life in general as well. He had a genuine interest in the well-being of students, even if he wasn’t directly responsible for them. I know there have been students who had difficulties during their time here (undergrads and postgrads alike) and Tim always had time to help, even if it was just to lend an ear and chat.

The support didn’t stop with my PhD either. He was keen to talk about my research fellowship project, partly to offer his advice and experience which was indispensable, but mainly, I suspect, because he enjoyed the new source of Tim-style jokes. The most common one was his expectation of finding a pig in his lab from which I would collect my cell samples; in fact, this was the only stipulation he made in allowing me to use his research equipment, to quote “it’s your responsibility to feed and clean up after Porky”. But jokes about Porky aside, his selfless support by giving me free rein to run trial experiments in his lab was invaluable to my project and my own development as a scientist. As ever he was supportive and nurturing in these early stages of my career, for which I am deeply grateful.

His diagnosis last summer came as sad news to us all, staff and students alike. After he took gardening leave before the new academic year, I was asked if I would be willing to deliver the first year material that Tim taught. It wasn’t long after agreeing to this that Tim got in touch with me to discuss the details of the course. But it went beyond discussing details. In one of these chats before semester started he said “If you need any help at any stage, or even every step of the way, just get in touch.” I was also under strict orders to provide feedback after every lecture so he knew how things were going, and at every step of the way he would be offering advice and support, providing tips and anecdotes for upcoming topics, and offering suggestions to the exam paper I had written. My first semester of teaching would have been a lot more difficult and stressful if it hadn’t been for the years of help and experience that Tim so kindly provided.

So in the 11 years I have been at the University of Sheffield, as an undergraduate, postgraduate, research fellow, and now teaching, I am proud to say that Tim was a source of support and inspiration in my academic life, and that I know this experience isn’t unique to myself. I would like to share a few quotes from others who studied with me upon hearing about Tim’s passing.

“Tim was one of the finest lecturers I’ve had the pleasure to be taught by, and an excellent scientist as well.”

“He was a great guy and a fantastic lecturer.”

“The respect for him extended beyond his department in many ways; those of us that worked with him at the IOP are but one.”

“I have many fond memories of Dr Tim, a fantastic lecturer.”

“Tim was a fantastic inspiration to many of us he taught and he always showed the passion he had for his love of physics through his teaching. “

And a quote from myself. Tim Richardson entered my academic life as an inspirational lecturer, remained a great colleague, but became a wonderful friend who I miss deeply.

I would like to end with a reading from Ralph Waldo Emerson, entitled “To Laugh Often and Much”

To laugh often and much;

to win the respect of the intelligent people

and the affection of children;

to earn the appreciation of honest critics

and endure the betrayal of false friends;

to appreciate beauty;

to find the best in others;

to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child,

a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;

to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here.

This is to have succeeded.

I know that everyone here will agree that Tim most definitely succeeded.

Thank you.


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