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Edward James Sands, 1920-2011

Eddie Sands

Eddie Sands

8 February 2011

Eddie Sands, a research technician and superintendent in the Zoology and Psychology departments respectively, and a long-time chairman of the Bristol branch of the ASTMS Union, died on 13 January.

Eddie Sands – despite a love for whisky, wine, cigars and a good dinner, not to mention a battle with cancer – made it to 90. He was one of the most decent, able men I ever met.

Eddie left school at 14 and then set about educating himself with the help of the local library. He never stopped reading and learning throughout the rest of his life. During the war he served with the Royal Engineers. On the way to North Africa his ship was torpedoed and sunk; luckily, for all our sakes, he survived, along with five others, and went on to serve in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. I guess such things put dealing with problems in a post-war English university in some sort of perspective.

Eddie joined the University in 1950 as a general technician in Zoology. He became a member of the Bristol University Branch of the Association of Scientific Workers (AScW) and soon became its Chair. The association with AScW is something Eddie shared with Sir Alec Merrison (Vice Chancellor of Bristol, 1969-84), who had been a founder member of AScW at Harwell when he was a Scientific Officer there. The two had a high regard for each other, and negotiations usually went well. In those days, negotiating with senior academics could seem a daunting task. Eddie’s take on this was summed up by his comment: ‘Look, they’re ordinary people just like you and me – didn’t you notice the egg down the tie from breakfast?’

Eddie was also Chair of the second incarnation of our Branch, the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS). Meetings back then could be highly entertaining and hotly debated – there were many interesting characters around. I watched with huge admiration as Eddie conducted this circus. He made sense of the often rambling debate and, with his superb people skills and bucket loads of common sense, he always managed to get conflicting egos to pull together, and good, sound policy usually emerged.

In 1976 he became Superintendent in Psychology (a role he held until he retired). The same year, he also became one of the first Non-Academic Members of Council, the governing body of the University. His knowledge of the University ‘at the sharp end’ and his wisdom quickly earned respect. From Council, he was selected to be on the District Health Authority, where he was member of the selection panel for the appointment of General Practitioners in Bristol.  He served on the Appeals Tribunal for supplementary benefits. He also became a member of the Area Manpower Board, and a board member of Filton Technical College.

The good working relationship between the Trade Unions at Bristol and the University management is pretty much unique. It is built on trust – and Eddie has played a huge role in bringing this situation about. We all stand on his shoulders.

He was always interested in helping the young, and he was instrumental in setting up a training scheme for technical staff here. It was considered the best example of its kind in the country at the time. It’s sad that we have not been able to sustain it in these straitened times.

Eddie played a large part in ASTMS (which became MSF) nationally. He was elected as the South West representative on the Universities National Advisory Committee (UTNAC), which set the Union’s national negotiating strategy for Higher Education. His worth was soon recognised and he became its Chair. Election onto the National Executive of the Union followed.

When he retired in 1985 the University awarded him an honorary degree. A few of us gathered in his office afterwards. Shortly after the whisky bottle came out, he burst into tears and said he felt such a sham. We were all stunned that he did not fully realise the respect in which he was held by all who knew him. We were proud of him and pleased that the University had rightly recognised his contribution.

Eddie was a very generous man, finding the best in everyone. I rarely heard him say anything bad about others. If he did, there was usually a balancing statement. Bill Maggs, who ran the electronics workshop in Psychology and went on to be Superintendent in Engineering, said of him: ‘He taught me to manage people as people and I owe him a lot. Christmas was never the same after he retired. I will remember him for his generosity to all the technicians, not only in the Department but the University and other institutions.’

Those of us who followed in Eddie’s footsteps learned from him just about everything we came to know about being a trade union negotiator. Do your homework; present a cogent case; think how management is likely to respond; understand their concerns; do more homework; refine your case; and then just keep going! He taught us that, while on some things you may profoundly disagree with management decisions (such as the closing of the Architecture School), the University is not the enemy. The success of the organisation is crucial to the success of our members. We learnt from the way he balanced doing the very best he could for an individual with representing the interests of all the members – sometimes a difficult trick to pull off.

Eddie was a dear man, a true gentleman – and though he is gone, his legacy remains.


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