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Andy Powell rang me a few days ago to tell me that our friend and former UKOLN colleague, Rachel Heery, had died. Although Rachel had been fighting cancer for a long time, I was shocked, as I had been speaking to her a few weeks before and she was in good form. Since being in the US I have not interacted with Rachel as much as I used to, but each time we spoke she was always so engaged and so full of news that I never really expected her to go.
I first met Rachel when she still worked for what was SLS in Bristol, later acquired by Innovative Interfaces. She rang up about a visit. I asked her to suggest a time. “Why don’t I come across this afternoon?” she responded, which was typical of her urge to move things along quickly. Not long after that Rachel came to work at UKOLN and helped establish the project work that was important to funding activity. She was an active participant in projects, and she was driven by the desire to do good work, to leave a mark (see the UKOLN tribute for a record of her contributions).
But what I will remember most from this time is all the dreary paperwork, the endless proposals, the torture by technical annex, the negotiations about partnerships, the working and reworking of spreadsheets to see if everybody could get what they wanted within allowable amounts, the scraping together of matching effort, the accounting for time, and the writing of project reports. Rachel did a lot of this work and she did it with determination and a sardonic humour: Rachel always did what it took to get the job done, even when the job was the pits.
Rachel was always ready to ask the difficult questions: she was more concerned about being on the right course than about being comfortable. Rachel stretched you. She told you what she thought. But she was often humorous and always focused on a good outcome. People recognized that she was ambitious, not for herself, but for the success of whatever effort she was contributing to.
She was also very conscious of being a woman in a male-dominated, often techie, environment. I think she would have been very pleased by Sarah Currier’s remark on Lorna Campbell’s blog entry. “You always knew you had an ally- not an ally in the back-room handshake sense, but in the cut-the-crap, ‘let’s work out what’s best’ sense. She was fun and funny and an excellent role model for younger women coming through.”
Rachel developed a strong network of collaborators – through JISC, EU and DCMI activities – who will sorely miss her energy and friendship. As will her UKOLN colleagues. She leaves a big gap. Rachel was an important part of my working life and a good colleague and friend. We worked closely together for many years in an exciting time. I owe her a lot, and I will miss her. My sympathies are with Mike Heery, her husband, and her family, and I hope they take some small comfort from knowing the high esteem and affection which she inspired among her colleagues.
Here are some of the tributes to Rachel I have seen: Lorna Campbell, Stu Weibel, Rachel Bruce, Andy Powell, UKOLN.
There is a note on the University of Bath site with funeral details.