This Cambridge Life

The colleagues who’ve scored almost a century in continuous service to the University

As they (literally) hand over the keys to their much-loved Vet School, Betty and Paul tell us about the poorly elephant who brought two friends and why it was important to keep the place going in the midst of a pandemic.

Paul: I didn’t want a job working with animals, so when I first joined the University in 1974, I purposefully took a job in what was then called the Botany School, now Plant Sciences. Fast-forward to today and I’ve been Facilities Manager at the Vet School for 26 years. I’ve worked for the University for 46 years, and Betty for 48 years in one department or another.

Betty: Keeping the Vet School running was such a big job that I was recruited to help Paul as Facilities and Safety Co-ordinator. We’ve worked together for 15 years as part of what is now a tight knit team of four. We’ve spent so much time together we’re more like family than colleagues.

Betty: We’re responsible for keeping the buildings running and all the staff and students on site safe. We have a Veterinary Hospital, research labs, an equine and farm animal section, admin offices and 100 plus students and staff on site at any one time.

Paul and Betty

Paul: We really have seen it all working here! As well as all the usual jobs involved with keeping buildings in good working order, like servicing of laboratory equipment, reporting leaks etc, there’s also been some very unique challenges to working in the Vet School.

Betty: There was the time we had a poorly elephant come in for treatment, and his two elephant friends came along as well to keep him company. We’ve also had a celebrity tiger, alpacas and a variety of other animals.

Paul: All I can say is it’s lucky we have a big site with lots of space. A site this size also means that I do a fair amount of walking every day and (long before new security measures were introduced) I’ve helped to catch the odd animal who’s tried to escape – which is one way to keep fit and healthy.

Betty: It’s definitely a job that always keeps you on your toes. We both love the hustle and bustle of the Vet School and are naturally people who get a buzz from solving problems and making things work.

Betty: But this year, for the first time ever, the Vet School fell silent. Along with the rest of the University, we closed our doors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Walking around the empty corridors – the School just felt desolate, strange and sad.

Paul: We had to close down 19 buildings in total but research labs doing vital work to combat the virus stayed open, as did the animal hospital. As many animals as possible were sent home if it was safe to do so, but those undertaking long-term treatment like chemotherapy carried on visiting the Hospital.

Betty: We came in one day a week, then two and now – five months later – we are in every day. There has been a lot of work going on to get the buildings up and running again to make sure it’s safe for students, staff and animals to return to.

Paul and Betty having a tea break.

Betty: We’d both talked about retirement on and off for a while now. But lockdown gave us a trial run at seeing what it would be like to be at home more. And for both of us, the time just felt right to step down.

Betty: I’m keen to do more gardening, travelling and piano playing. Paul’s got a new puppy and would like to spend more time on his DIY and stained glass projects.

Paul: I would have much preferred a normal last six months before retirement. There are still things I would have liked to have solved.

Betty: It’s been very surreal, but what has made everything possible has been having such a brilliant team to work with. We have a great set of colleagues here in the Vet School and while we won’t be able to have a retirement party as such, we know they’re planning a virtual send off.

Paul: It’s always people you miss the most isn’t it? We’ll miss the busyness of the department too. We’ve seen a lot of change in our time and it will be interesting to see how the Vet School continues to develop over the coming years. But whatever happens, what’s for sure is that we’ll both stay in touch, you can’t go through what we’ve been through together and have it any other way.

This profile is part of our This Cambridge Life series, which opens a window on to the people that make Cambridge University unique. Cooks, gardeners, students, archivists, professors, alumni: all have a story to share.

Words: Charis Goodyear. Photography: Nick Saffell.