Jack M. Buist
1919 - 1999
♬ Dvorak - Going Home ♬
We have gathered here to mark the passing of Jack Mitchell Buist, my father. I hope to give you all the opportunity to reflect on, and celebrate, his life, rather then ponder too long on his death. He was not a religious man and, in accordance with his wishes this will not be a religious ceremony, but, we will provide time for each of you to remember him in your own way
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy wordly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
These words from Shakespears' Cymbeline, reflect the views my father held. His life was such that when death came his task was done - although I think it is fair to say that if he could have, then he would have, done more, and willingly. So let us just consider briefly what he did do, so that you can judge for yourselves.
Mitchell was born in 1919 in June, just under 5 months before the end of the first war, in Leven, Fife, Scotland. His name, our name, has no clear origins. The word buist has been in use as a noun in Scotland since the fourteenth century to mean a box or chest, although this usage is now limited to the Shetlands, and Fife. How ironic that his chest was not as strong as he would have liked.
In 1936, he received his first honour, as a Dux Medallist from his school and also an exhibition Scholarship to St. Andrews University. Up to this point our knowledge of him is limited for our information was from his memory and not shared experience. However, during his time at St. Andrews he met, and fell in love with, Eloise. Many stories of his time there have been passed down, but, there is no doubt that he spent many happy hours there.
On one occasion he was reported to have climbed, in the early hours, through the wrong window of his hall of residence only to find himself standing at the foot of the bed of the warden of the college!!!.
He qualified in 1940 with honours.
Many years later he, and my mother, returned to the town, to be pursued up the 18th fairway of the Old Course, by their future son-in-law, Iain, to ask for the hand in marriage of their daughter, Celia.
Despite a desire to join the RAF, he was directed by the ministry of labour to work at ICI, in Manchester to research into, amongst other things, rescue equipment for airman, barrage balloons, and O-rings for the A-Bomb.
In 1944 he married my mother, in Caxton Hall, Westminster. (she was working at the War Office in Whitehall) and they had a short honeymoon in Cambridge.
Immediately after the war in Europe he made the first of many trips abroad, to Germany, this time as a lieutenant colonel, dressed in a navy blue ARP uniform, adorned with the appropriate pips. This was to review the German's progress in synthetic rubber.
Throughout his career he was often called to travel throughout the world, to China, Russia, South Africa, America, both north and South, to name but a few. This travel gave the family some difficult times, and, without the continual and willing support of my mother throughout his working life he would have found it much harder.
At ICI, from the late 1940's to the mid 1970's Mitchell tied together his knowledge of Chemistry, Physics and Statistics and applied them to the testing of Rubber. His work was used in the setting of International Standards. He wrote books that became standard texts in the industry.
During his time at ICI he initiated more than 20 patents, and published more than 150 papers.
In 1968 he was appointed chairman of two ICI subsidiaries. From 1971 he worked on merging the businesses of ICI with Rhone Poulenc. Mergers are never easy and cultural differences make putting any two businesses together hard. In this case he had the added difficulties of working internationally.
He was involved in a car crash in Paris; his injuries were not inconsiderable; his recovery quicker than we could have expected.
In all of his dealings Mitchell cared deeply for the effect that his decisions had on the lives of the people who worked for him. In times of recession and during this merger he was asked, in modern parlance, to 'downsize' the businesses. This never sat easily on his shoulders, but, he would never shy away from dealing with it personally. His mental anguish was clear to us at the time and I, personally, will never forget the courage he needed, nor the pain he carried in those tasks.
He built his involvement with the Institution of the Rubber Industry, becoming chairman of their council for the first time in 1969. In 1970 he was awarded the Hancock medal (Thomas Hancock was a pioneer in the industry in the 19th Century)
In 1975, after the merger of the Institution of the Rubber Industry and the Plastics Institute he became the first chairman of council of the combined Plastics and Rubber Institute, in 1976 he was elected vice-president and in 1977 he took the presidency.
In 1976, he chose to leave ICI to form Abelard, and for three years, until his heart attack, he worked as a director of Anchor Chemical Company.
He continued to work, almost to the end, acting as a consultant and expert to the industry he loved, and it continued to reward him:
- in 1976, the first Urethane Medal;
- in 1982 he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Technology by Loughborough University;
- in 1984 the FSK medal;
- in 1990 the City of Paris Medal;
- in 1991 appointed 1st Honorary President of the International Rubber Conferences Organisation for his lifetime; and
- in 1992 he was inducted into the Polyurethane Hall of Fame of the Society of the Plastics Industry of America.
I am sure there is more, but the picture is clear.
I am, also, proud to say that in the later years of his life he spent a good deal of time in Strangeways prison. He was a member, and for three years chairman, of the board of visitors. Coincidentally, I am also proud that my mother spend much of her time in Styal womens' prison. She was on the Board of Visitors there. I know my father took great delight in all her achievements, especially her 26 years on the Manchester Bench.
So, that is his work, but, of course, he also lived a full and rewarding social and private life. In 55 years of marriage, his beloved Eloise has, at different times, laughed with him; argued with him; cried with him; helped him through illness; brought him home from France after his car crash; entertained for him; cared for him after he broke his neck in a fall in 1992; and finally, nursed him in his last few years and months of decline.
Her words in his death notice were that he was 'a loving and kindly man', she has always been skilled at short summaries, I am sure you will agree she has demonstrated that skill again.
We, his three children, Eloise, born in 1950, Celia in 1953 and myself in 1958 have been privileged to share his life and have drawn, and will continue to draw, on the experience.
When Celia was born he used his skills in climbing through windows again, to get to see the new born child, only to be ushered out of the hospital somewhat ignominiously!!.
He was always proud of our successes and guided us all without rancour when things went less well. There is so much we could say, so much we would each like to say, that it is hard to know where to start.
I know we all brought him much joy with our marriages and grand-children, Eloise's Alexander and James, Celia's Andrew, who cannot be here due to commitments in America, Rebecca and Charlotte, and my dear Frances. He took as active an interest as he could in their development and success, and he cared deeply for all of them.
His family is spread throughout the country, Eloise and Dan live nearby, Celia and Iain live at one end of the country in Edinburgh and my wife, Rocsarne and I live at the other, on the border with Wales. Unfortunately, Dan is at sea off Iran and cannot be here in person, but I know his thoughts are with us now.
For all the grand-children their knowledge of my Father has been of an elderly man in decline, but his wit and humour, and on occasion his wicked sense of playfulness, has touched and shaped them all.
Both Celia and I, and our families, have only been able to provide support from a distance and can only thank our sister Eloise and her family for her efforts over the past few months and years in her support. Her developing and successful career in teaching would have stopped many people from putting in the effort that she has, and I know my father knew well the sacrifices she has made. In recent years her children too have been willing, and grateful for the opportunity, to help.
My father had a love of sport. For many years he played golf, with a single figure handicap, and, he tried hard to interest me in the game, I think he realised he would fail when I came an unceremonious last in the only competitive game I played. He also enjoyed watching football and we have many memories of both Old Trafford and Maine Road over many years.
In 1969, we got our first colour television set, you may think there is no connection here, but, in fact, he had acquired it, intending it to be at no cost, on 14 days Appro. Coincidentally, Manchester City were playing Leicester City in the League Cup Final. City won one-nil and the rest of us did too, because we wouldn't let him send the set back.
He was, like football, a man of two halves, Jack at work, Mitchell at home. He struggled at times to keep the same business like manner he undoubtedly maintained as Jack when he was Mitchell.
For example, every summer from 1959 we travelled to Nairn for a two week holiday. Usually, this was preceded by a debate, sometimes fiery, often the night before, which often ended with Mitchell categorically stating that we were not going. He would, however, be up at the crack of dawn packing the car regardless. We all made and maintained many friendships, in this peaceful Scottish town. Returning each year was a joy to us all.
We have all been honoured to know a man who made commitments to his work, his family and his friends freely, and happily, and honoured them absolutely.
He took his mother-in-law into our house and cared for her with love over many years. I have also been reminded recently that very soon after his accident in Paris he proposed a toast to the bride at a close friends' wedding.
He spoke at many events, and some, in later years, gave him more difficulty than was ever evident, especially giving the opening address at the International Rubber Conferences Organisation conference, in Manchester, just after the IRA bomb, in June 1996.
All these things he did with pride but many lesser men would have taken an easier course.
The letters and calls we have received since his death have reminded me of the depth of regard in which he was held by all his friends and colleagues, by the industry he worked so long in, and by his family, both close and distant. A fellow physicist, Robert Oppenheimer, said 'the world alters as we walk in it'. He played his part in altering it, and he was no passive player.
Perhaps now is an appropriate moment for a period of silence to allow you all to remember him each in your own way.
Cristina Rosetti said
When I am dead my dearest, sing no sad songs for me.
My fathers' favourite singer, Ella Fitzgerald, sang this, his favourite song which I would ask you all to listen to now.
♬ Ev'ry Time we say goodbye ♬
And with that break we now come to the final moments of the physical existence of Jack Mitchell Buist. His wit and humour, his joy of life and his love for all his family and friends we commit to our memories. His humanity and caring we commit to our hearts. His body we commit to be burned and returned to the cycles of nature he understood so well.
♬ Touch her soft lips and part - William Walton ♬
Hold on to Mitchell in your thoughts; there is no need to part from him too hastily. Talk about him often and enjoy the memories of him just as we have done today.