Keeping it in the family
PHIL Willers felt he was joining a family when he travelled from London’s East End to Middlesbrough to meet Bill Greig, the then head of mathematics and computing at Constantine College.
The year was 1965 and Phil had just got his A level results as an 18-year-old. He was pleased as punch to pass pure mathematics and economics, but knew failing applied mathematics had cost him his university place.
However all was not lost. His careers advice officer told him of a brand-new two-year college diplomas in maths, statistics and computing that had just been launched in Leicester, Wolverhampton and Middlesbrough.
Phil applied to all three. Leicester didn’t reply, Wolverhampton offered a formal interview. But Bill Greig was different and told Phil to come up for chat, saying he was confident there would be a place available for him.
Phil had no idea where Middlesbrough was and when he saw a sign from the train saying they were coming out of Yorkshire and into Durham he thought he’d missed a stop.
“Bill Greig was very friendly and so were all the local people I met, so I decided to enrol and I have never looked back,” said Phil, who has just retired from Teesside University after a 45-year association with Middlesbrough’s institution of higher learning in all its various forms.
“When I finished the Diploma, which was converted into a Higher National Diploma (HND) halfway through, I went on to do a BSc (Hons) Mathematics degree and met my wife, Hilary, on that course.
Towards the end of my degree, I was invited to apply for a lecturing post in Statistics and Operational Research. By then the college had become Teesside Polytechnic.
“I married Hilary in 1972 and went on to become an assistant dean in the University’s School of Computing and never left the place until I retired this year. Our youngest son, Martin, studied a BSc (Hons) Multimedia degree from 1998 to 2002 and speaks very warmly about his experiences.”
During his time on Teesside, Phil switched his allegiances - from supporting West Ham United to the Boro.
They are similar, he says. “Local clubs which are at the heart of the community and occasionally do very well.”
One of Phil’s fondest memories of his days as a student was the Students’ Union Debating Society. “We had guest speakers, including Brian Clough who was Hartlepool FC manager at the time. I was doorman on the evening Brian Clough was speaking about whether smoking should be banned in public places. I asked him where his ticket was when he arrived. I don’t think it went down very well.
“I have really enjoyed working in Middlesbrough, and have seen so many changes over the last 40 years. When the first computers arrived they were great big beasts that could do very little. Now we have all these tiny machines that can do so many things and hold so much information.
“The Department of Computing and Maths expanded enormously in the 1970s and 80s, and we could not have imagined the demand for courses or the new areas to be explored, such as in computer games and in computer animation.
“The changes to the campus have been tremendous. The new buildings are fantastic and they make such a good impression on visitors. I also like the fact that the institution in all its forms, first as Constantine College, then as Teesside Polytechnic and now as Teesside University, has always remained very much a part of the town.”
Phil was delighted when the University renamed its Computer and Mathematical Sciences Building as the Greig Building in honour of its former head of Department.
Phil said: “It was great to work in a building named after a man who had such a large influence on my life. If it hadn’t been for Bill I never would have come up to Middlesbrough or had such an enjoyable and rewarding career.”
It’s all down to Bill Greig
BILL Greig’s long association with higher education on Teesside began in 1956. When he first arrived mathematics did not exist as a subject in its own right and computing hardly at all.
His first task was to take charge of the four mathematics lecturers scattered around the college departments and form them into a specialist group.
By 1958-59 he had persuaded the principal that the subject was sufficiently important to have its own department and he was appointed its first head.
From that base he launched a series of developments which to led first to the rapid growth of mathematics and the then infant science of computing.
The growth was so rapid that in 1966 the department received approval to run a separate degree in Computer Science - making Constantine College one of the first institutions of higher education to offer computing as an honours degree in its own right. Then, in 1967, the department started its own mathematics degree.
It was largely due to Bill’s foresight that the School of Computing was formed - which went on to achieve national and international recognition as a centre of excellence for teaching computer science in the 1990s.
Bill retired in 1977. He was presented with the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the University in 1994 - the same year that Teesside’s computing courses were graded as ‘Excellent’ by assessors from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
The university has maintained its position as a leading university for computing since then and has played a pioneering role in developing new areas such as in computer games and in computer animation from the 1990s onwards. Bill Greig died in 2001.