Nancy Holmes   11.03.1929 to 23.12.2020 


Nancy Holmes photoNancy Holmes, secretary and administrator in both Science and Arts areas of the University, has died, aged 91.  


After several years as a legal secretary and “a frightening interview” in Stanmer House, where the University Administration was housed temporarily, she was appointed to the newly established Chemistry Subject Group in July 1962 and, for many of us, was the first person we met when we reported for work at Sussex. She travelled from her home in High Hurstwood for several years before moving to Brighton.


Those of us who were involved in setting up chemistry at Sussex congratulated ourselves on building an internationally acclaimed department in just a few years. However, our academic success relied heavily on the calibre of our supporting staff, including the Subject group/School Secretary, and the other people who worked in the School Office. Those who recruited Nancy were shrewd and discerning; the rest of us benefitted enormously.  


Much of our present office equipment did not exist 57 years ago. Nancy had to work without computers, mobile phones, email, and electronic spreadsheets. Few academic staff or students could type. Work had to be passed to a secretary to be prepared for publication. Research papers, teaching materials, timetables, examination papers, mark lists, and letters had to be typed by use of machines that could not cope with chemical or other scientific symbols.


Alan Pidcock, one of the founding members of the Chemistry Subject Group, was appointed before he completed his D Phil thesis at Oxford. As this contained complicated mathematical equations, the head of department, Colin Eaborn, suggested that Nancy type the thesis "to help to acquaint her with more technical aspects of her typing role". Alan still cherishes Nancy’s top copy. 


She was self-effacing, but well organised and determined, resilient in the face of difficulty, and, at the same time, gracious and generous, ready to help, and optimistic. Her kindness was shown in her regular visits to Colin’s widow Joyce, after he died in 2004.


By 1971 Colin had become Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Science). When he relinquished this post, Nancy became secretary to a succession of Pro-Vice Chancellors (Arts) from Reg Mutter (1971-3) to Margaret McGowan (1992-7), with an interval (1974-6) at Brighton Polytechnic (now the University of Brighton). Margaret’s comments match the chemists’: “I found her not only efficient and friendly, but eternally cheerful - whatever disasters threatened. She had a wonderful way of greeting colleagues (old and new) and setting them at their ease. Her knowledge of affairs was so extensive that she would immediately produce the necessary papers and remember previous related issues.” While working full time at Sussex, she studied for a BA degree at the Open University and this was awarded in 1984.


Nancy was pleased to share her love of the Sussex countryside with those recruited to the University. She was a supporter of the Sussex Wildlife Trust and volunteered to work for the National Trust at Rodmell. When she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she moved to a care home in Hangleton but continued to come to social events and, when she could no longer drive, made quite elaborate journeys alone by bus. 


Pauline Grant, Sheila Massey and David Smith. 



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