John Robert Chipperfield died on 22nd August 2008, aged 71. John was nearly a Mexican, as his father worked for Shell Oil in Mexico, but his parents returned to London shortly before his birth in 1937.
He grew up in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, where his father was a chemical engineer for Shell Oil. John's scientific enthusiasm was apparent early on. "Chemistry Experiments at Home for Boys" was a favourite book and he tested out many of the experiments. He and his friend Adrian installed perhaps the world's smallest telephone network by digging up the neighbours front lawns to lay cables.
He passed the eleven plus a year early and won a scholarship to the King's School, Chester. This meant a lengthy daily journey by bike, bus and foot. Possibly this was why he disliked any further organised sport in the school day.
John then won a scholarship to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, matriculating in 1955. The broad scope of the Natural Sciences Tripos and the Cambridge supervision system suited John's wide-ranging and enquiring mind. He graduated with a first class degree and stayed on to do a PhD in Chemistry.
It was here that his life was transformed when he met Barbara Marshall, a Newnhamite. They first met at a friend's party and romance blossomed in the unusual setting of Cambridge Public Library. John's politics were converted from mild Conservatism to red-hot Socialism and his religion from Anglican to Methodist. John and Barbara shared so many life-long enthusiasms for reading, conversation, hospitality, good meals and the Guardian newspaper. Theirs was a true partnership where each supported the other's career, interests and well-being.
They began married life in Cambridge and carried out research at Cambridge University. John then applied for lectureships across Britain. Fate led them to Barbara's home county of Yorkshire when he became a lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Hull. Their children were born in Hull so would have been able to play cricket for Yorkshire, had they not been daughters - Ann and Ruth.
John's professional interests were wide-ranging. He carried out research on heart disease in collaboration with Barbara. He also worked on reaction kinetics and catalysis. As new tools and techniques became available, John was always keen to master them and apply them in his research. His knowledge of computers stretched from the earliest machines the size of a building to the latest laptop.
Perhaps more unusually for a research scientist, John was always concerned to do his best for his undergraduate students. When Nigeria froze all cash movements, he pleaded the case of a student unable to graduate as his fees could not be paid. He prepared all his lectures meticulously and loved to hear of his former students' successes. He also supported his professional colleagues both in their research and as a friend. This was rewarded with his promotion to Reader.
One colleague wrote "John's record within the Department in Hull was one of sustained and conscientious teaching and research. He was self-effacing and was one of those whom the rest of us could rely on. If he said he would do something, we knew it would be done". Another wrote "He was interested in students, effective in research, and conscientious in all that he did. He set me a fine example and supported me in my own work. He was particularly kind when I had a stroke."
Before work-life balance was invented, John found time to learn Russian and visit Moscow at the height of the Cold War. He gladly used these language skills to translate for Russian patients in Hull Royal Infirmary. He supported Endike Methodist Church in Hull. He also loved music and playing the piano. Typically, his musical tastes were also wide-ranging and spanned Beethoven, Chopin, rag-time and the Seekers.
John and Barbara held Bonfire Night parties in their large garden. Guests enjoyed a spectacular pyre of garden waste and Barbara's Yorkshire parkin. Meanwhile, John ran around enthusiastically lighting the fireworks. One Polish colleague was so impressed she insisted on taking fireworks back to show her family. Even in the 1970's, this was pushing the boundaries of airport security!
In his early fifties, John had a cerebral haemorrhage and underwent brain surgery. He regarded the next two decades as a gift, and was immensely proud to see both his daughters study at Cambridge. He rejoiced in all their achievements; Ruth's appointment as a Consultant Psychiatrist, and Ann following in his footsteps to a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and industrial research work with Johnson Matthey.
After retirement, John and Barbara moved to Bury St Edmunds in 2002, to be near Ann and Ruth and their partners. Despite a mild heart attack shortly after moving, John enjoyed retirement hugely. It gave him more time to master the piano and organ, join in the exploits of the University of the Third Age and tackle the Guardian crossword. He played a full part in the life of Trinity Methodist Church and ministered to many others as organist at the United Reformed Church, Northumberland Avenue and Thurston Churches, the Wedgwood Centre, the Martins and the West Suffolk Hospital.
In the midst of all this, John had another heart attack in early August 2008. He fell, broke his arm and was admitted to West Suffolk Hospital. Two weeks later, after waking and chatting to the nurses, he suddenly collapsed and died. Miraculously, his heart attacks caused him no pain.
John will be remembered in particular for his wonderful smile. This was provoked by a phrase of music, a succulent steak and kidney pie and, most of all, simply because he was pleased to see you. He would have been astonished and touched at the flow of cards, letters and messages since his death. He was a humble man who never sought public recognition or self-aggrandisement. John was wise enough to know that there are better things in life: learning, music, courage, kindness and love, and that these will endure forever.
He leaves his wife, Barbara, and two daughters.