Jul 2, 2018

In Memoriam: Roderick Antony Long (1942-2018)

All the Museum and Department were very sad to hear of the death of former staff member Rod Long. Rod, Uncle Rod as he was affectionately known, was to many people the face of the Museum. Dave Norman, our long time Director, has kindly written his recollections of a man who, put simply, we all loved him for his friendly, helpful and kind nature.
Liz Harper

Category: 2018
Posted by: Sarah

Roderic Long (“Uncle Rod”) was, for as long as we can remember, the palaeontological assistant and gallery warder in the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge. He was, quintessentially, the friendly and welcoming face of the Museum, and retained a staggeringly comprehensive knowledge of the contents of the Museum; this knowledge was dispensed in endless snippets of wise and genuinely helpful advice to any and all visitors. Rod’s long association with the Museum meant that his knowledge of many of the academics (long-since departed) was as fresh and bright as if they were still working on the collections.

Rod was born and raised in Burnham Market and his early experience of the constant passage of aircraft from the many air-force bases in East Anglia during and immediately after the 2nd World War gave him a lifelong interest in aviation. His education was of modest but very short duration and he, in his very early teens, began working in a local nursery (of the botanical variety). Rod was by nature a rather self-contained, shy individual: content in his own company, quiet and yet surprisingly sociable, and needed nothing but the simplest of the necessities of life. It was during this early part of his working life that the ‘fly-paper’ quality of his memory began to emerge: he quickly picked up the common names of the flowers he was tending and yet also, seemingly effortlessly, memorised all their Latin names. After his time as a nurseryman he was, for a short while, a deliveryman for the “International Stores” (an English supermarket chain that rose to prominence in the early 1950s). However, this did not suit our Rod and his life was shortly to change.
At the age of fifteen Rod was interviewed for (and was appointed as) an assistant at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. In this environment Rod was to blossom: he found himself surrounded by interesting and precious objects that he could care for and learn about. Museums probably attracted Rod because their general air of quietness and contemplation rather suited his personality. While assisting with the collections Rod began to develop the skills necessary for their curation. After a few years working at the Fitzwilliam, Rod applied for a similar position at the Sedgwick Museum of Geology (as it was then named) and was eagerly appointed.
Working under the fastidious eye of Albert ‘Bertie” Brighton (the Museum curator) Rod was thrown into the business of keeping the Museum ‘ship-shape’ and ready for business each day, as well as assisting with the task of documenting the enormous collections: a task to which ‘Bertie’ pretty much devoted his entire life. The study, sorting and organisation of this huge assortment of somewhat alien objects: rocks, minerals and fossils was a daunting task, but Rod evidently relished the task and such work: routine suited him well. At about the same time that Rod was appointed, Michael Dorling was also taken on as an assistant to ‘Bertie’ Brighton and the two of them became the ‘old retainers’ and very much the visible face of the museum (years later joined by Steve Laurie who specialised primarily in curating the rock & mineral collection.
In keeping with the foundation of the Sedgwick Museum (1904) and the public money that was donated in memory of Adam Sedgwick, after whom the ‘new’ building was named, the Sedgwick had a reputation for being open to the public and had regular opening times. Visitors were always welcomed and Rod came, increasingly, the welcoming face of the Museum: he would be there, in his white lab-coat ‘uniform’, to greet newcomers, introduce them to the collections, identify specimens that they might bring in, and dispense his comprehensive knowledge of the collections with effortless ease. It is largely due to Rod that the Sedgwick has been regarded as the ‘friendly museum’ – his ethos lives on to this day.
Paradoxically shy and retiring by nature Rod simply revelled in knowledge and clearly enjoyed opportunities to dispense his own knowledge (as well as a seemingly endless supply of jokes, when occasion permitted). His passion remained aircraft, and the nearness of Duxford provided a source of endless pleasure in his free time. High days and holidays would see him return to Norfolk to visit his family and his roots.
After retirement Rod rarely came into the Museum but retained his friendship with various employees, enjoying trips to Duxford to see the aeroplanes with Ken Harvey (Department Photographer and now Museum Volunteer) who was especially kind to him. Sadly, the development of Parkinson’s disease made it obvious that he would need to leave his own home in Arbury and be taken into care. He was moved to a care-home in Histon and re-introduction of a measure of order and structure to his daily life undoubtedly gave him great peace and contentment and, on occasion, offered opportunities to use his knowledge to assist his own carers from time to time.
A quiet, reserved, deeply private, shy and yet a happy bachelor. Rod’s needs were simple, his life was simple and unadorned, and yet enriched by his gift of a quite extraordinary memory. Always ready with a laugh and a merry quip – especially against himself – a lovely smile, and the kindest and most gentle of natures. A truly lovely man – we all miss him.

David Norman