Some days I just really miss my grandpa. He was the most humble, gentle, and kindest man I’ve ever known. Being from a working class family in London, when he came to Nottingham to do his PhD he was sneered at for not having come through Oxford or Cambridge. He went on to win a Nobel prize anyway. Despite the brilliance of his mind and the reverence of his peers — travelling around the globe to give speeches and lectures — at home he preferred to keep in the background, only contributing to conversation when he had something important to add, or, when my grandma – matriarchal and catholic and always speaking her mind – had to be told to “put a sock in it, Jean.”
He had a dry sense of humour – not really one for jokes or comedy, but prone to the occasional deadpan one liner: “What was the most romantic thing you ever did for granny?” “Marry her.”
I saw him get angry maybe once in my life. He was sensitive. Observant. Neurotic – something I think stemmed from having been separated from his mother at a young age during the war. He was always fixated on something. His mind was constantly working, constantly thinking. He would take apart electronic gadgets just to see how they were assembled so he could later make his own (and improve/adjust accordingly). He was the most determined person I’ve ever met. Failed his eleven plus exam and was advised not to pursue science. Pursued it anyway, became a professor of Physics, built rockets in his spare time, taught himself three languages, got his piloting license in his forties. Nothing stopped him once he’d set his mind on something.
I remember asking him once, how did it feel, knowing the impact MRI had — has — every single day; what did it feel like to indirectly help so many people etc, and, in keeping with the very essence of his nature (this perfectly summarises his personality and who he was), he thought about his answer very carefully before slowly replying something to the effect of: “for every success of MRI, there’s the patient for who it marks the beginning of the end” (in which the scan discovered some incurable, advanced, aggressive tumour for which prognosis was poor to non existent) “so I think about them too.” Literally nothing sums up my grandpa more than that answer: downplaying his incredible achievements by choosing to focus on the sobering reality.
He loved physics. Almost as much as he loved being a grandpa. He loved raspberry picking and making his own jam at home. When we were little, he loved freaking us out with that detachable thumb trick. He made us hot cocoa every night before bed. His stories of choice were educational but always first hand and personal; of the East End, Devon, of bomb shelters and doodlebugs. An air of quiet, dignified respect followed him – you couldn’t help but be in awe of him – and yet, he was the most unassuming person. The most consistent man in my life. I will always miss him.