I first met Amber when she joined the Training Team here in 1999 on a 1-year contract. By then I was into the 3rd year of my 1-year contract as a systems engineer. In those early days Amber and I worked closely together as she wrote an array of training courses and guides for services that I ran. As you would expect from a good teacher (and a technophile), Amber was always keen to understand the technologies and be accurate on technical detail. My mornings would often begin with an email from Amber containing a variety of technical queries and ending simply with the question “Lunch?” What could be better than lunch with Amber and the promise of lots of “tech talk”?
Amber liked spending time with the “back room” technical staff. She loved some of the more geeky and eccentric personalities among us, and she was always amused at how bad we could be with actually using technology. She was so good at using technology herself that it’s no surprise that she was the one who introduced me to new things like Facebook and Twitter – although I still don’t really know what to do with them.
A few years ago we ran a little competition that involved finding out various things about the members of the Systems Team, essentially by talking to us and asking us the right questions. The prize was “honorary” membership of the team. The combination of a competition and belonging to a team of geeks was too big a temptation for Amber - and the task was ideal for her. To us geeks, Amber’s natural communication skills were like special powers – and she used them well to extract the answers from us and win that competition. After that she would often remind me of her membership of the Systems Team, sometimes to wangle some sort of favour from me, but mainly because she enjoyed the added element of “geek chic” that it gave her.
Amber was a joy to be with, especially when she was being playful. She enjoyed the banter that often took place in our office and would inevitably get involved. She was very good at gently teasing us. On one occasion, after Amber had become User Services Manager, she wandered into one of my team’s more surreal and pedantic conversations. Amber then turned to me and said “They really shouldn’t be allowed to interface directly with users”.
Lunches, dinners, away days and other events that took us away from the office were the best occasions to see and enjoy Amber’s more relaxed and fun-loving side, although if some form of competition was involved, you could see quite a different side to her. She was warm and caring in the way she spoke and of course there was her wonderful smile, which was simply infectious. Whenever I pointed a camera at Amber I got an instant beaming smile back. Although, we didn’t always see the smile.
One time, the Systems Team went to a stand-up comedy night and I asked Amber to join us. To our great surprise, she didn’t laugh at anything! There were comments like “I don’t get it” and “Why’s that funny?” Recently we were reminiscing about this in the office, and Paul Jackson summed it up best when he said “Amber laughed more than any person I know, except at comedy”.
Amber would often come up with unusual but interesting places to go. The last time I went out with her was another typically quirky occasion. Amber had found out where to go to see the original sets and puppets for our childhood favourites, Bagpuss and The Clangers, so of course we had to go. It was great. We both loved it.
There was a great deal more to working with Amber but her smile, her warmth and her friendship are the things that I will remember most fondly.
I remember having a conversation with Amber at one of the UCISA conferences towards the middle of the evening. This was after at least one sponsored reception but before the main dinner. Whilst we did disagree on our approach to heavy drinking (me for; her against) we did agree that it can only ever be too late to get drunk and never too early !
I first met Amber when she became a member of UCISA’s Support Services Group by virtue of becoming chair of the User Skills working group. It was clear from the start that she had a special talent, not just for getting things done as was evident by the User Skills working group became more active and starting to run events, but also for assessing issues and contributing to the group overall.
She stepped into the breach to become chair of the Support Services Group in June 2009 when the previous chair fell victim to an institutional restructuring. This also meant that she became a member of the UCISA executive. Before she accepted the position, I remember her asking a series of questions on the areas the group should address, what the status of various actions was, who the lead contacts were for particular groups outside of UCISA. She wanted to make sure that she could do a proper job before taking the role on. Her preparation for leading the group was thorough, characteristic of her contribution to the work of the Group, the Executive and to the UCISA community as a whole.
Amber certainly made an impact at Executive - not just for her arrival in her red coat, hands with brightly painted nails holding a recently purchased coffee and the plethora of electronic devices she used to bring - but for her contribution overall. Amber had an ability to quickly grasp the nub of an issue and so be able to ask incisive questions and to contribute to discussion and debate. But equally on those rare occasions when she didn’t understand what was being presented or the rationale behind a decision, she was the one that asked for greater clarity, invariably asking the question that others were afraid or unwilling to do.
And she was always one of the first to respond to requests for comments on papers or issues circulated to the Exec and, as someone that was always online, you would often get a response late into the night.
Amber’s leadership of the Support Services Group brought it together into a more cohesive group and although the sub-groups remain, they now have a common purpose and common understanding. All the sub-group chairs recognised what she was striving for. She always had time for everyone, to hear their point of view, to understand where they were coming from. She was highly regarded by her colleagues on the Executive, on the Groups and in the sector and this was very much reflected in the messages and responses I received when I had the sad duty of passing on the news of her illness and then her death to the wider community.
Her last duty for UCISA was to take part in the judging of the Award for Excellence. Each member of the judging panel puts forward their top three in order to produce a shortlist to form the basis of discussion to determine the final outcome. It will probably come as little surprise to those assembled here that one of Amber’s shortlist emerged as the eventual winner.
Away from work, I remember her sense of humour and her zest for life. I remember her tackling the art of punting for the first time in Oxford and was one of her passengers for a somewhat meandering trip down the river Cherwell. I remember numerous late night exchanges on Twitter, sometimes on serious issues but more often than not on more off beat topics that amused both of us such as the existence of platform zeroes at KingsX and Cardiff Central stations, or whether the Exec should perform the spoof rap “Newport state of mind” at the start of the Management Conference held in the city.
I last spoke to Amber shortly after her tumour was diagnosed. Typically even then she was thinking of others, wanting to ensure that her Group were going to be able to function in her absence. She also expressed her delight that she could keep in touch with her friends as she could get an Eduroam signal from her hospital bed. She was, perhaps reflecting her zest for life, remarkably upbeat. When I commented on that she expressed her determination to beat her illness - I remember her words “there’s only one outcome as far as I’m concerned”. Sadly we know that wasn’t the case.
She is sadly missed by colleagues across the sector, by those that became friends. For me, it was a privilege to have known her and worked with her. A privilege and a lot of fun.