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Geoffrey Ford, 1942-2011

Geoffrey Ford

Geoffrey Ford

1 September 2011

Geoffrey Ford, former University Librarian and Director of Information Services, died in August. Cathryn Gallacher, Director of Library Services, and Mike Heery, former Director of Library Services at the University of the West of England, offer this remembrance.

Geoffrey Ford was a distinguished librarian with an international reputation. His career included both academic roles and practical library management, and took him to the universities of Durham, Lancaster (where he met his wife Jill), Sheffield, Southampton and Bristol (where he was University Librarian, and later Director of Information Services, between 1990 and 2002).

During his time at Bristol, Geoffrey introduced many positive changes. As one of his former colleagues put it, Geoffrey was ‘a constant stimulus, a source of fresh ideas, always presented vigorously and so often in an entertaining way’. In 1995 he was instrumental in setting up the MSc in Information and Library Management at Bristol – the first such course in the region – and he taught on the course for many years.

He was also used as a consultant by a wide range of bodies that included the Office for Scientific and Technical Information, the British Library, and the University Grants Committee. In 1973 he was awarded the Robinson Medal by the Library Association. He was on the editorial board of three academic journals and held a range of positions with SCONUL, the body that represents British academic librarians, serving as its Chair from 1998 to 2000. Geoffrey was also influential in the area of statistics and performance measurement and held an international role in setting standards for all libraries.

There is something of a mystery about Geoffrey’s name: his full name was M Geoffrey Ford, but few people ever discovered what the M stood for. His answer to those who asked was simple: ‘My mother was happy with a Ford but my father always wanted an MG!’ Another fanciful tale was that the vicar who christened him momentarily forgot his name until he finally blurted out, ‘I name this child… mmm… Geoffrey’.

Geoffrey was famed for his handwriting, which few could decipher, and maintained an astoundingly untidy office, piled high with papers and books, which reflected his wide interests and the capacity of his mind, but which made visiting him rather tricky. His secretary insisted on keeping a couple of square feet of floor space clear on which to place the coffee cups of visitors.

Geoffrey retired in 2002 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The way he dealt with his illness was impressive. He was always optimistic and cheerful. Even in the week before he died Geoffrey continued to show remarkable courage, organising his affairs right up until the end. Geoffrey’s positive message was such that the NHS published his account of how he approached his illness for the benefit of other people with Parkinson’s. Here are some quotations from Geoffrey that appeared in that NHS publication:

As someone who took great pride in doing the best they could for their career, I made the decision that the best option was for me to take early retirement at 60 before I felt I wasn’t able to do my job properly any more.
I then enrolled on a creative writing course to not only give my week structure but to help me combat the loss of confidence that comes with this debilitating disease. I had never done anything like this before but actually thoroughly enjoyed learning something new. I found it very therapeutic and after gaining a diploma, I now meet a group of my poetry colleagues in the pub where we can share our latest work.

We want also to pay tribute to Geoffrey as a very good friend. He could make interesting conversation about almost anything, including politics, the theatre, concerts, travel and books (he had a large library at home as well as at work, with 80 feet of shelving devoted solely to the works of Rudyard Kipling).   

It was a real privilege to have Geoffrey as a boss and a friend, and we will badly miss his company, his sense of humour and his enthusiasm for life.


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