In memoriam: Dr Nigel Collins - a eulogy

Dr Nigel Collins a eulogy

Posted on Tue 09 January 2007

An event in remembrance of Dr Nigel Collins, who died suddenly in early 2007, was organised by the School and held at Kidderminster Town Hall on 18th July 2007.

Tim Gulliver welcomed a virtually packed Hall by explaining that the final piece of music played at Nigel's funeral was "Over the Rainbow", and he felt it fitting that this memorial event should begin with it. On this occasion it was beautifully sung by School pupil Christina Lloyd (year 10), accompanied by Mrs Cathy Foster, the School's Head of Music, on piano.

Past Headmaster Graham Merlane, who was responsible for appointing Nigel to his post at the School, told how he wondered at the interview how to persuade this bright young biologist, educated at one of London's finest schools, an honours graduate from Oxford and who had spent four years as part of a scientific research team in the Antarctic, to join the staff of a Kidderminster Comprehensive School. But he did, and Mr Merlane went on to tell a series of anecdotes about Nigel's early years at the School.

Mr Merlane's reminiscences were followed by two more musical pieces, "Siciliano", by J S Bach, played on the flute by Katherine Jones (6th Form), and "Pastorale from Sonata No. 4", by Vivaldi, played also on the flute, but this time by Jessica Bagust (6th Form). Both performances were a credit to the players and to the School.

This was followed by a eulogy from Mo Wood, Head of Drama and member of the School's English Department. Many of the eulogies that followed, understandably, concentrated on Nigel's achievements within the Science Department, but we have chosen Mo's to publish here as it gives insight into other areas of Nigel's interests. We thank Mo for giving us permission to publish it here.

"You can buy a man's time, his physical presence at a given place and even his skill but you can't buy the enthusiasm… loyalty… and devotion displayed by Nigel. Nigel earned my respect; he was exemplary. He has been with me all the way; he had confidence in me and was lavish in his praise whether it was a whole school production or a low-key affair. Following "Grease" his comment was "Better than the West End"! I have assumed he didn't mean the west end of Kidderminster! He was a cultured man who valued the arts and gave me amazing opportunities for "Science through Drama". I always knew he was hatching a plan. He always used the term "notion" … I was honoured to be included in Nigel's notions.

"Through him, King Charles I Pupils gave an exclusive royal performance to Princess Anne. She was amused and informed by our interpretation of the effect of the declining sperm count. Our show "Talking Bollocks" was a highlight of my teaching career and Nigel's favourite expression "awesome" summed up his response. Nigel loved mixing with the upper echelons - equally he could deal with kings and paupers.

"Nigel and I shared a Bristolian Background but we went one step further and became the extended family to a bunch of youngsters. Nigel was canny and knew that by becoming  "partners" we could purchase a family rail ticket.  Leaving Kidderminster for St. Thomas's Hospital, we were a poor imitation of the Walton Mountain crew. We had a posh London hotel, funded by The Wellcome Trust and Y Touring. We went onto adopt more children from another school whose staff was not as accommodating as us. Throughout the residential Nigel chatted - he knew so much and was keen for us all to share in his love of knowledge. We learnt so much from him but Nigel listened too  - he listened to our ideas, suggestions, opinions and fears without pre-judging or being dismissive. He went on to share his sushi with me… who else would choose raw fish as they waited at Paddington Station for the return?

"Nigel loved the theatre and was granted honorary membership of the ladies "Vagina Monologues" Group along with John Atkinson. How bemused he was to receive the admiration from his female work colleagues - he didn't bat an eye when he and John were overwhelmed by an auditorium of women at Wolverhampton. Again, Nigel held his own. Again it was "awesome".

"He was immortalised in the school panto  "Snow White and the Seven Wannabees". He was scrutinised by Pete Holland (then in Year11) and he was represented complete with his "fluffy penguin" and assisted by his Lab Rats. He thought it was "fab", or should that be "awesome" or "neat"?

"Nigel strengthened me. We worked interdependently. He allowed me to do what need to be done creatively and practised enough self-restraint to keep from meddling with the artistic creations. Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others". Thanks, Nigel, it was encouragement, encouragement, and encouragement."

Following Mo's eulogy, further reflections and recollections were contributed by virtually every member of the Science Faculty, plus two students who went on the once-in-a-lifetime School visit to CERN; Mike Gough, on whose Dunclent Farm Nigel organised the annual "BioCamp"; and previous School student, currently first year Ph D graduate, and Association member Mike Stubbington.

A final musical item, chosen by Tim Gulliver as he thought it summed up Nigel, was the lively quasi-jazz piece "Willie Wagglestick's Walkabout", written by Brian Bonsor and delightfully played on the piano by Julia Sloan.

Tim Gulliver wound up this joyful celebration of Nigel's life with a slide show photographs from all eras of it, before going back to the Science Theatre and Rose Garden at the School for tea and (as Nigel would have expected) home-made cakes.

If there was ever any doubt, the occasion demonstrated that, although Nigel is sadly no longer with us in the flesh, he will live on in our hearts and minds for ever.

Martin Humphries.

If you would like to make a donation to "The Nigel Collins Fund for Young Scientists", a bursary has been set up in Nigel's memory to give financial assistance to science students in further education, please contact Mrs Lyn Stanley, PA to the Headteacher, King Charles I School, on 01562-512880 for more information.