Alumnus of the Month: March 2023
Mike Richardson is our Verulam School Alumnus of the Month. Mike left Verulam School or, as it was then, St Albans County Grammar School for Boys, in 1956.
I left Brampton Road in 1956 to go to Nottingham University to do an Honours B.Sc. in Botany, with Zoology, Microbiology and Geology as subsidiary subjects, and graduated in 1959. I owe my career and interest in biology and natural history first to a student teacher at my primary school in Redbourn, who took us pond-dipping, and then to Tom Skinner, whose domain was in the sheds at the eastern end of the school site. He was a great inspiration, and sent the six biologists in the Lower Sixth on a field course at Dale Fort at the southwestern tip of Wales, and got us involved in recording for the first Atlas of the British Flora. He became a great friend and remained so until he died in 1997. On graduation, I taught biology at Ripley Technical School [Derbyshire] for 4 terms, by which time I realised I was not a teacher and got a post as Research Associate at Nottingham & District Technical College [now Nottingham Trent University; while there I got an M.Sc. by research and in 1964 got a job as a plant pathologist with the Official Seed Testing Station for Scotland in Edinburgh [i.e. a scientific Civil Servant]. I started as an Experimental Officer and finished as a Senior Principal Scientific Officer and Assistant Director of the laboratory. During that time, I had opportunities to travel [Denmark, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and USA], and to do research in plant pathology, until management and administration took over, hence early retirement in 1993. In 30 years of retirement I have continued to be interested in fungi [especially coprophilous fungi – Google that!], and helped my wife with her ecological research on invertebrates in tropical rainforests in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands until 2016.
What are some of your proudest achievements since leaving Verulam School?
Having had a useful, satisfying and interesting career, without having to think about continuity of employment. I have two sons who are both happy with their lives, with similar ways of life and standards that I have [I hope!], and I would hope that R F Bradshaw would have approved of [I still remember his rattling Austin coming down Brampton Road, far enough in advance to be heard and warn us to get our caps on – no cap = detention!].
What advice would you give someone looking to follow a similar career path?
I would hesitate to give any advice now, as circumstances have changed so much in the 67 years since I left school. At that time, I believe only 5% of school-leavers were fortunate enough to go to university. Now it seems that a majority is expected to go to ‘uni’. I was very lucky as a junior scientist in the Scottish Civil Service to do relevant work with a free rein. That would not be possible now where, rather than anticipating problems, they are tackled after they are discovered. I was becoming disillusioned by the time I retired. I enjoyed my work, but not the administrative work, which was generated by a top-heavy administration governed and ruled by budgets, regardless of the needs of the job to be done.
How have your experiences at Verulam School contributed to your life and successes since leaving school?
The encouragement of my interest in biology underpinned my whole career and, together with the sound education provided in the other subjects, was fundamental. Part of that was the school Air Training Corps [797 Squadron, if I remember correctly], Commanding Officer ‘Chunky’ Carter [History teacher]. I left as Flight Sergeant, before which I went solo on an Easter weekend gliding course, and went on a trip to Malta and Egypt. As an adult, I subsequently took up gliding as a sport and became Chairman of the Scottish Gliding Union.
What House were you in at Verulam School and can you describe one of your fondest memories?
Jennings, but I think I would have been a disappointment, as I was not an athlete or interested in sport. If I could get away with it, I would spend sports afternoons in the biology lab. Taking part in House and school activities was not an option, as I lived in Redbourn so, if I missed the normal bus home, I could not use my bus pass and would have had to pay my bus fare.
Carry on travelling and enjoying retirement, as much as aches and pains will allow, by-pass the care home, and direct cremation.
We love hearing what our alumni have been doing since leaving Verulam School. Each month, we are inviting a member of our alumni community to share their story of life after Verulam. If you’re an alumnus who would like to take part, or you’d like to volunteer an alumnus that you know, then please drop us an email.