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An inquorate Senate meeting


My invaluable secretary at Leeds University
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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When I came down to Leeds, the office was bigger of course, not physically, but the workload of the office was larger because it was a much larger department. And Harry Irving, who was my predecessor, had... his secretary had left about a year before I came down.

So he had to appoint another secretary, which he did, so I can’t take any credit for being insightful and appointing Jean Thomas, who was the married secretary this time, whom I inherited from him. But he did do me the courtesy of saying, ‘I’ve had to appoint someone and if you don’t like it, I’m sorry, but is it all right by you?’ And quite naturally I said, ‘Well yes if it’s appropriate for you, I’m sure that it’ll be okay’.

I wasn’t to know how perceptive Harry had been, but Jean was a wonder, she had many roles that she could play. She had been a school secretary before, so that shows that she was a very experienced person. But she was with me virtually the whole of my period until towards the end, when we amalgamated as a school, and she became secretary to the whole of the school then.

But her renown in the university was such that the Registrar tried to pinch her for the Registrar’s Office on a couple of occasions, but she enjoyed what she was doing.

But Jean was an amazing person in organising the professor. She knew the business that we were doing, she would point out things, which I may have missed, she was like a senior civil servant in fact, always in the background, always helping.

And I mentioned parenthetically that she’d been helping typing the book. Of course that wasn’t done in office hours because it was a private initiative, which, if the book sold well, would actually bring in some income, so I had funding from an alternative source, and she agreed to spend a lot of evenings and so forth, typing, so she was helpful in that way.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: Leeds University, Harry Irving, Jean Thomas

Duration: 2 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011