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Derek Parsons, 1933-2013

Dr Derek Parsons

Dr Derek Parsons

9 September 2013

Derek Parsons, retired Lecturer and Departmental Administrator in Physics, died suddenly on 22 August. Professor Robert Evans offers an appreciation.

Derek was born in Staffordshire and attended Halesowen Grammar School before reading Physics at the University of Sheffield. He continued there for PhD studies under the supervision of the distinguished experimentalist W (Willie) Sucksmith FRS, formerly Reader in Bristol. Derek investigated the magnetic properties of several binary metallic alloys and completed his PhD in 1957. Subsequently he took a position as assistant lecturer in Sheffield, publishing some influential papers on how magnetic moments vary with alloy composition.

In 1961 Derek was appointed to a Lectureship at the University of Bristol. Derek had played cricket for the University of Sheffield and he sometimes jested that he was appointed by Maurice Pryce FRS, Head of Department and a man who took his cricket seriously, in order that he would open the batting with Pryce in the departmental team. Derek’s research activities at Bristol remained in the physics of metals but, alongside other members of the Low Temperature Research Group, his focus turned to studies of electronic structure, and in particular Derek employed subtle techniques for determining the Fermi Surface of metals. Work on Indium alloys published in the 1970s with Peter Holtham, a postgraduate student, made impact in the field. Derek supervised eight PhD students in total; all speak of him as an exceptional mentor.

In his early days in Bristol it was clear that Derek had exceptional personal qualities. A former Head of Department writes: ‘Derek’s wise and temperate advice was constantly sought by staff and students alike.’ This statement understates the quality of Derek’s contributions. Undergraduates, postgraduates, technical, secretarial and academic staff benefited enormously from their interactions with Dr Parsons. Derek served with distinction for many years on Science Faculty Progress, Undergraduate Studies and Technical Staff Committees, and on Senate.

In 1982 Derek was promoted to Departmental Administrator in Physics. The title is misleading. Whilst Derek did have an administrative role in supporting Heads of Department on matters related to arranging teaching duties and oversaw secretarial support to research groups (old hands might recall what this means), he also acted as Senior Tutor in Physics. As such he had overall responsibility for pastoral care. Many generations of students appreciated enormously Derek’s generous support .Guidance was given patiently but firmly. Wise and kind are adjectives that students and colleagues used in describing Derek. Just before he retired Derek served (1995-6) as Dean of Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Science. I was Director of Physics Graduate School at the time and I recall the skill with which Derek handled problems. He cared about each individual; he would make efforts to get to know the particular student, the supervisor and the detailed circumstances. Moreover his unfailing good humour and his font of anecdotes ensured many committee meetings and interviews were not as dull as they might have been. Old fashioned virtues? Yes, indeed.

Derek was an enthusiastic and popular teacher. After he retired he returned for a few years to give a lecture course to first-year physics students.

Outside of Physics and the University Derek was a stalwart of Tyndale Baptist Church. He served as its Secretary and also as Chair of the Redland and Clifton Group of Churches.

Derek leaves his wife Miriam, his children Nicholas, Ruth and Andrew, five grandchildren and many friends.

A memorial service will be held in Tyndale Baptist Church, Whiteladies Road, BS8 2QG at 12.00 on Friday 20 September.


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