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Eulogy for Brian Place

Written by his eldest son: Christopher Place

I want to share with you some words that capture my dad…. But to begin I would like to tell you of my discovery of one of dad’s last cryptic crosswords that he completed not long before he became ill. Having the clues and their answers would surely make sense…well not to my brain… I mean I had to Google clues to find out why an answer was the answer. But for Brian the brain, well he was extraordinary. What a powerhouse of an intellect. Of course he dumbed things down for most of us but on occasion we would be left with our heads spinning at his knowings…Well Jamie got the brain gene and dad and he would talk in a language vaguely resembling English and we would look at Annette for reassurance that these pair of genius people would return to a more stable ground for us mere mortals… 

Oh family quizzes were a joy if you were on his team. 

…my dad’s brain began its journey in 1941 in Bury St Edmunds. He lived an amazingly varied and fascinating life, from a boy’s home in Wales, then after his O-levels he joined the merchant Navy and became a radio officer and sailed the seas, he returned to solid ground and got a PhD. At one point He found himself in Germany watching the 1966 world cup when England won. There were some awkward moments with the  family he was staying with.  He then did a post doc with Glaxo and was an integral part of the team that figured out how to synthesise vitamin B12.  

In 1972 Dad started as the head of Science at the RTC (now GMIT) and was there in this role for over 30 years… He shared his life firstly with Susan and then Annette and his 5 children and all his wonderful grandchildren. 

His family were everything to him and as the years passed and the Places grew, he was so very proud and would revel in our biannual family quiz competition were we would have a quiz and compete for the Place Perpetual cup. Twice a year with a different menu to accompany every year…Dad always got the chesses…he loved cheese…the smellier the better…This thrilled Annette. We will continue this fine tradition Dad. Sorry Annette but there will be plenty more very smelly cheese.

All of us are left in a state of discombobulation and a world without Brian makes little sense. But he would be asking us all to keep carrying on and to joke and smile and play golf at the back of his home, for my sister  to keep the game of bridge alive and well for the next generation of Places. Of course a game so complex and at times nonsensical to this brain, made complete sense to Dad and he relished playing with Fiona and Susan and many of the wonderful friends he has made over the years….3 no trump dad…3 no trump 

And of course there was his amazing garden that he spent so many hours planting, and growing and giving very grateful family members the benefits of his green fingers. The very hot chilli’s not withstanding. 

Dad loved a project and was pretty amazing in the DIY stakes… His latest project was an antique singer sewing machine that he has been painstakingly restoring. We will finish it for him. Well the one child, Martin, who seems to have got his flair for DIY will coordinate and guide, the rest of us are a tad inept in the DIY stakes. 

And then a pandemic comes and Dad focused his attention on writing his memoir and becoming an Irish citizen…, Our Irish hero who was so welcoming and hospitable. When we weren’t having to social distance, we would drive up and the kettle was on and he would make you feel so welcome. And if you were lucky enough to be there on a Friday evening, Dad would always cook a Chinese of some description. He was a wonderful cook. And when you would leave, he would stand there with Annette and wave until we beeped and drove away…Dad missed the family get togethers but there was lots of phone chats, doorway chats and zoom quizzes. 

Dad was famous or maybe infamous in the wedding speech department. It started with Ian and Caroline…Dad decided that it made complete sense to take a humorous approach. I felt this made sense too and he very kindly gave me one of his jokes that I could say if I wanted when I was saying my few words. And so, he stood up and spoke and the told a joke that would be most welcome at a monthly Mensa meeting, but in Letterkenny it elicited a more muted response…Then I stood up and told the other joke and got lots of laughs much to Dad’s irritation…The consummate scientist, the man of research, chemist, the man who guided students through the years in their endeavours had to revise his approach to wedding speeches…

And so at the next wedding, Martin and Fiona’s he knew he had to take a more low brow approach in the humour stakes…And delighted us all, who belly laughed and felt uncomfortable all at once has he shared three jokes. He had his system now…he would replicate at the next wedding to be sure.

And so it was myself and Amy’s turn and she warned me that Dad was not to  tell jokes and so I stressed to Dad the seriousness of my situation…And my amazing Dad decided to abandon his experiment and delivered the most incredible speech, full of emotion and wit with incredible Shakespearian references. I wanted to stand up and shout out, that’s my Dad, that’s my Dad.

Each of us have been inspired by Dad in different ways.  From Fiona playing Bridge and being very good indeed, Martin’s DIY and being a computer genius boy. Jamie’s intellect and his love of science. My brother Ian and his sporting prowess, a brilliant rugby player who now coaches and guides young players to be the best of themselves. I too have been influenced by Dad in terms of curiosity of the human condition and knowledge acquisition and now applying this to the psychological needs of different people.

Dad was on so many committees in the last number of years from patient councils to water schemes. His volunteering and generosity of time captured his character. His work on the patients’ council really typified Dad. He was advocating for patients based on his experiences as a patient and bringing his amazing research mind and capacity as Orator to bare and challenging the system to adapt a patient centred system based on the needs and views of patients…Quality of care isn’t just about the biology but much, much more.

I would ring him on quite a regular basis to ask some technical question that I always knew he would know… And he would answer… I’m on a zoom meeting… But he always called back… My dad always called back.

We can’t ring Dad now but we can carry him in our hearts and we can cry and smile and feel privileged that we got to be part of his life.