I’d arrived a little late. Trying to cause as little disturbance as possible, I still had to shuffle crab-like down a whole row of people who were committed to an involuntary Mexican wave in my wake. This wasn’t the impression I’d wanted to make.
I’d spent the night in Sheffield and, despite having to wait for four friends to assemble at my car before departing we weren’t that late. At least we wouldn’t have been. Although we had at least one Yorkshire native in the vehicle – sat in the passenger seat, in fact – it fell to me to query our progress. I was fairly certain that the best way to York from Sheffield didn’t lie through Bradford but, nevertheless, it took sometime before my misgivings were strong enough to overpower the fug of a late night and it wasn’t before we were some miles out of our way that I sloughed the car around. Direct action taken, I proceeded to ignore the bleating Sat-Nav for the next hour.
Red in the face then, flustered and trying vainly to appear as if I’d been there all along, I sat at the back of the room as Terry O’Connor introduced the next speaker. I’d been in the same room as Terry at least twice before now but I’d never actually spoken to him. I’d emailed him earlier in the week to ask if I might have a chance to talk to him while I was at this event, explaining who I was, my current situation and enquiring plaintively whether there might be any opportunities for me to study for my PhD at York.
As we broke for coffee I made my way back down the aisle of rising humanity as quickly as I could, thinking to grab a much needed cup of coffee and then loiter by the biscuits in the hope of introducing myself to Terry. What would this behemoth of my chosen subject make of me and my disruptive entrance? Somehow I’d managed to get to the front of the queue and, as I filled my cup, I was hailed brusquely but friendlily by someone making their way passed me:
‘Ah, Lee, we must talk.’
Bewildered and more than slightly flattered that I was recognised and that he’d taken the time to come and talk to me first I stumbled out a ‘yes, thanks Terry.’
That day and on two more occasions in the following weeks I was very touched, not to say astounded, by how Terry was so willing to make time for me and talk through my concerns. Eventually, of course, I did move to York and become his PhD student. I’m still amazed at how he can make time for everyone, his incredible memory and breadth of knowledge and perhaps most of all by his unfailing capacity to instantly make people feel at home and that what they have to say is interesting to him.
Around this time last year, not long after hearing from Terry that he intended to retire, I suggested to Clare Rainsford and Eva Farinell that we should try and organise a conference for Terry to mark his retirement. The AEA agreed with us and our call for papers has just been announced. Terry’s impact on so many fields of archaeology, but particularly zooarchaeology and environmental archaeology, cannot be overstated. A long track-record of post-excavation analysis has been mirrored by concerns in questioning the role of environmental archaeology, of teaching archaeology and of practising the subject in the field.
Though I may be a little less in awe of his person today than I was a few years ago I remain awed by both his intellect and his easy-going, gentlemanly personality.
The conference website, including the call for papers, can be found here: http://www.york.ac.uk/archaeology/news-and-events/events/conferences/aea/