A Farewell to Esther Bourne
By Claudia R Kalay
Does anyone still remember what he or she did on 17 September 1990?
Esther Bourne most likely will, not just because she has a good memory, but that day she took up employment at City University London as a Senior Cashier. However I doubt whether she knew then that this place was to become her “working home” for the next… twenty-two years.
A coffee, a cigarette and something else
Having previously worked in a bank she must have dealt with some quite stressful situations and she was certainly well qualified to work as a Senior Cashier. But her time in the Cash Office was not uneventful either. A well-informed source reports that Esther only narrowly escaped disaster in the Cash Office, when her then line manager almost set fire to the office by dropping cigarette ash on papers lying on the desk (Yes! Those were still the days when smoking in offices was allowed). Quick action was needed and all available coffee and tea dregs were poured onto the papers as no fire extinguisher was in the cash office. This was possibly the first glimpse of Esther’s fearlessness, which would – no doubt – come in useful as a life-saving virtue for a later line manager.
The lady and the poster
But after four years in a sealed environment it was time to get out. She had come to see that university life is all about improving oneself and advancing one’s career as its natural outcome. Spurned by office gossip about an advert for the position of an Accounts Assistant in Research Grants and Contracts (RGC), she applied for the post and joined the team in the hot mid-August 1994.
And she stuck with it for the next eighteen years. Some people may find such prospects dull or even dreary. Well, they are wholly mistaken. The complexity of the subject demands nothing less than continual learning of new matters as research policies, funding body and auditing demands and peculiarities, academic expectations put on universities by governments, internal demand and need for restructuring and such relentlessly change… Are you already lost? Well, Esther is the master and commander in the field. And I can vouch for the fact that Esther is a keen learner and a live wire who would not put up with humdrum. She is as lively as you can get, keen and conscientious in her work, sharp in her thought. And if that is not impressive enough she is also a poster girl for the Plain English Campaign with a dry sense of humour.
Work, party and a wasp
Accounts Assistants in RGC may have come and gone but Esther and her line manager Andrea Tinson were holding the fort, very much to the benefit of the University. In order to survive all the endless hours of hard work over Excel spreadsheets, SAP print-outs and ever more demanding funder queries (not to mention academic requests) the routine was occasionally broken by one of the famed office parties (strictly outside office hours, of course).
It was also Andrea who benefited most from Esther’s courage and stability. While Andrea jumped for cover at the sight of any wasp approaching, Esther was not fooled by those tiny mindless creatures. She stood up against them at the open window. A quick whack with the back of her hand and the wasp was eliminated – work could continue.
Andrea and Esther – a formidable duo ruling the world of RGC at City for almost a decade after Esther had been promoted to Research Administrator in May 2003.
For my own benefit the second half of the duo decided to stay on when Andrea left for new adventures in the School of Social Sciences in October 2007. The interim period until my arrival in January 2008 was surely Esther’s hardest test but she mastered it with flying colours. If it had not been for her ability, hard work and dedication as well as her strength in leading the team, RGC would have crumbled – at a financial cost to the University.
Even the University had eventually come to see Esther’s positive influence and she was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Prize in 2010.
The new duo
As for me, I was just glad to have her. I must have had the right credentials in her eyes. The interview panel reassured her that I looked a bit like her previous boss – the first thing Esther told me when being introduced at the CREU launch in December 2007.
It made for a great start. Now I know that I also must have glowing cheeks.
Esther is a model employee. She knows what she is doing. She does it diligently. She is very perceptive and comes up with good suggestions for improvements. She is a great team player who is willing to jump in and help out in the team when work gets tough. She is professional, straightforward and does not need to hide her qualities behind a torrent of self-glorifying pronouncements. She is well-organised – in an admin job juggling concurrently non-stop queries, requests and tasks is essential; and she does it with ease. And over time a valued friendship has settled in.
Heaven only knows, she might have delayed her departure for a few more years if it was not for that annoying comment by the Chief Financial Officer at Ken Cridland’s leaving do about it being time to move on. But even though her loss will hit me and the team hard, I am glad she placed the application for the job as Research Finance Manager at the Institute of Education, University of London. She deserves to go further in her career. Her ability needs new room to shine.
I wish her all the best as she takes up her new job on 4 June 2012 and know that she will do a great job.
P.S. Est, I knew you did not want to have a speech at your leaving do, so fully obliging, I did it in the newsletter.