John Padley, 1943-2008

May 22, 2008

A registrar who left a job as a speech-writer for Margaret Thatcher to devote his considerable energy and drive to the University of Sheffield has died.

John Padley was described by staff as "like a stick of dynamite", bringing exacting standards and a fast-paced approach to the university, along with a ready sense of humour that helped to oil the wheels of change.

As registrar and secretary for 17 years between 1982 and 1998, he was remembered as a man with clear ambitions and the ability to inspire his colleagues and change the university's culture.

One former colleague recalled: "Everybody knew him and he knew everybody. Porters or professors, it made no difference - he had time for everyone. He operated an open-door policy at all times, from 7.30am to 7pm."

Dr Padley, who described himself as a working-class lad from a mining village in North Nottinghamshire, began his career in the Civil Service. His work for the Department of Education in the 1970s included a stint as a speech-writer for Mrs Thatcher.

He arrived in Sheffield at a time of major change at the university, and injected a sense of urgency into the pace of what was, at the time, widely considered to be a slow-moving institution.

Geoffrey Sims, the vice-chancellor who appointed him, said: "He had remarkable energy and was always ambitious for the university. He always had an eye open for an opportunity to expand the university's influence."

His sense of humour was typified by an April Fool's Day report in an internal newsletter that alerted staff to a £200 million deal struck with a US consortium after the chemistry department perfected a way of making gold, and outlined plans to relocate the engineering department to Alaska, with free use of huskies for staff.

Recalling Dr Padley's serious side, David Luscombe, a former pro vice-chancellor who worked with him, said: "John was very hard-working, very dedicated and highly effective. He did a very great deal in bringing more international students and a great deal to forge links between the university and further education colleges up and down the country."

Another former colleague, Roger Allum, who was director of public relations at Sheffield during Dr Padley's tenure, remembered him for bringing "panache and style" to the management of the institution.

"He ensured that it had a competitive edge in the increasingly robust field of higher education," he said.

After retiring, Dr Padley spent three years in Sheffield before moving with his wife Meg to Ombersley in 2001, to be near one of his two daughters. He died aged 65 of a suspected heart attack on 22 April.

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