Comment By BVAA Director Rob Bartlett

Rob Bartlett

The bonds and friendships made in early years are often the strongest. So too can be the influences we have in those formative times.

I, like many other young engineering students, at the tender age of 16 came under the influence of a great team of engineering lecturers. Superb engineers all. But also versed in life skills, and with the real-life, dirt-under-the-fingernails practical experience of the workplace that infused survivability into their young apprentices.

I was doubly fortunate that our ‘year’ had a level of comradery, it turns out, that was somewhat beyond other cohorts. We’ve stayed in touch, held reunions, and reaffirmed individual friendships that have endured for decades.

Sadly, our keenest reunionist and most senior lecturer, Keith ‘Mr Vick’ Vickery, recently passed away, at the age of 83. Seven of our original class of 20 attended his funeral, plus two surviving lecturers. Oh, and about 200 others whose lives he’d also touched! Knowing his love of motorsport (he used to build racing cars as a hobby) some endeavoured to attend on motorcycles and in hobby cars, to make a raucous din that would have made Keith smile and remind him of our nearsynchronised - very loud and smokey - arrival at college every morning.

Letting a bunch of 16/17 year olds loose in a risk-rich environment such as an engineering lab, awash with machines, explosive gases, sharps, etc. must have a been a daunting responsibility, and for the first few weeks at least the place was run like an Army boot camp, Keith heartily fulfilling the role of troop sergeant.

Once trust was established however a genial, indeed wise-cracking, inspirational mentor emerged who appeared to have the Magneto-like ability to mould metal to his will, and could rectify any catastrophe I’d created on a phase test with a few expert strokes of a file and emery cloth.

I and others looked on in awe. He encouraged experimentation, came out with the imitable line ‘a good engineer is basically lazy,’ (always looking for an easier solution), explained your work’s shortcomings (often colourfully) but then gave encouragement and wisdom – usually a demonstration – and was kinder in his marking than was probably merited, all to build you up.

Our last interaction was him showing on social media that he’d utilised a shed tip I’d posted – one he’d probably known for years but nevertheless was still encouraging me – 37 years on – in doing something moderately inventive.

As we stood at his side saying a final farewell, a fellow student remarked to me on how, as a youth, you don’t appreciate how such figures can be so inspiring, and influence your life so comprehensively, for so long. I’m thankful that at our last reunion, I did get an opportunity to quietly thank Mr Vick for exactly that.

If you do nothing else today, go and thank someone who’s inspired you.

Published in Valve User Magazine Issue 46

Winter 2018 // Issue 47
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