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Dr Anthony Harrison-Barbet In Memoriam

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Dr Anthony Harrison-Barbet In Memoriam




Dr. Anthony Walton (Tony) Harrison-Barbet M.A., D.Phil.; philosopher, writer, teacher, lecturer; died peacefully on Friday, 29th May 2009, in the Bon Secours Hospital, Cork, Republic of Ireland, aged 70, having lived with prostate cancer for eleven and a half years.

Tony was born on 12th March 1939 in the Royal Northern Hospital, Holloway, North London, elder son of Rupert Harrison and Doris (nee Barbet), and brother to Richard. His childhood was notable for the large number of schools he attended — eight in all. The frequent house moves of his parents necessitated these changes, and he found this all to be disruptive and unsettling. Of all the schools he attended (including The Collegiate School; Keble House; Montpelier College; and Reigate Grammar School) it was at St Alban's School, Hertfordshire that he was most happy and successful, and this school remained important to him throughout his life.

After his A-levels in 1957, and a short time working for ICI paints division, Slough, in his own words 'by one of those life-changing moments of serendipity' he found himself applying to, and accepted at, Trinity College Dublin to study Natural Sciences. However, in 1959, in under a year of studying, he had come to a major decision — he would become a philosopher instead, and it was a philosopher he remained thereafter.

He switched courses at TCD, and to raise funds to support himself he worked for five months in the packing department at Harrods, and then taught English at the Berlitz School, Krefeld, West Germany. During his vacations he also worked at the Berlitz School in Dublin, and at the Amusements on Brighton Pier as 'Dr Love'! It was while in Brighton that he met the writer and mystic E.H. Visiak, who proved to be hugely influential in the shaping of Tony's career.

During the summer holiday of 1964, just before his degree finals, he hitch-hiked to the West of Ireland and on Achill Island he met Maeve Duggan. They were engaged six weeks later, and married in Cork in August 1965.

He obtained his M.A. from TCD, gaining a 2:1, and now he needed to accrue some funds to allow him to become a research student, and ultimately, his lifetime aim, a university philosophy lecturer. Initially they moved to Essex, where Tony taught at a small private school in Woodham Mortimer. In 1966, on gaining a D.A.A.D. scholarship, they were able to move to Gottingen in West Germany, where Tony embarked upon studying the works and notebooks of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-99) a German scientist, satirist and aphorist, who in Tony's words 'linked the mystical Neo-Platonism of the Renaissance to emergent Romanticism' and who 'anticipated with striking originality ideas characteristic of much 20th century philosophy.'

In 1967, with more funding established, and sufficient notes made at Gottingen University, Tony continued his studies by moving to Magdalen College, Oxford, under the excellent supervision of Isaiah Berlin.

With two small children now (Cliona, born in Gottingen, and Morwenna, born in Headington) finances were tight, and Tony did a fair amount of private tuition to make ends meet. He also worked for Wolsey hall, Oxford, teaching A-level logic, and philosophy for external students studying the London University B.A.

By 1969, however, it was obvious that a full-time job was needed to support his family, and his Lichtenberg research had to be shelved for a few years. Tony accepted a post at Westbourne House School for boys, a preparatory school near Chichester, West Sussex, and remained here until 1988, teaching physics, chemistry and biology, as well as athletics, directing/ producing plays, being a house-master, and becoming Director of Studies. In 1970 his son, Tristan, was born.

In addition to his full-time teaching post, in 1970/ 1971 Tony set up three establishments: 'Verulam Tutorials', a board of tutors, including himself, providing private tuition for Common Entrance, O- and A-level students; 'The Verulam Institute', providing summer schools for Wolsey Hall philosophy students; 'The Verulam Society', an informal philosophy discussion group.

The name 'Verulam' came from the Latin name for St Alban's, 'Verulamium', and Tony chose for his establishments the motto 'Multi Pertransibunt et Augebiter Scientia' — 'many will pass through and knowledge will be increased' — from the title page of Novum Organum by Francis Bacon, Viscount of St Albans. And many did pass through, and knowledge was increased!

The first president of the Institute was Christopher Chataway, and over the years there were some very eminent visiting speakers:

1971 E.R. Emmet, author of 'Learning to Philosophise' 1972 Colin Wilson, who gave the 'E.H. Visiak Lecture' 1973 Michael Moran, Lecturer in Philosophy at Sussex University 1974 Dr Lubor Velecky, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Southampton University 1975 Alexander Thynne, Lord Weymouth of Longlete (later becoming the Marquess of Bath); he superseded C. Chataway as the president of the Institute.

Some of these acquaintances proved to be very useful. It was Michael Moran who encouraged Tony to return in 1974 to studying part-time for his D.Phil. at Sussex University. Dr. Lubor Valecky was also the Chief examiner in Philosophy for the International Baccalaureate. He invited Tony to become an examiner for the IB, and this he became, marking exams and extended essays for many years, and after a short while being promoted to Senior Examiner.

In 1972 an American liberal arts college, New England College, was set up, near Arundel, West Sussex, and Tony became a part-time Lecturer in Philosophy there until 1975, when philosophy was removed form the syllabus. In 1973 he became a Tutor in Humanities for the Open University, teaching for the 'Age of Revolutions' course, running regular seminars in Worthing. And in 1976 he was appointed a part-time Tutor in Philosophy at Sussex University. So while studying for his D.Phil. he was also at last realising his ambition of teaching at a university.

In 1981, with Ronald Taylor (Professor of German at Sussex University) having been his tutor, he was finally awarded his doctorate for his thesis Conflict and Integration: a Study in the Philosophy of GC Lichtenberg, 1742-1799. He proudly carried the title of Dr. for the rest of his life.

In the late seventies or early eighties Wolsey Hall B.A. programmes ceased, and all their philosophy course materials were handed gratis to Tony and he continued to provide distance learning tuition for London University B.A. through The Verulam Institute. He also took on work for the National Extension College, Cambridge. A further opportunity arose in 1985 when he noticed, probably in the Times Educational Supplement, that an A-level philosophy course was to be introduced. Following an enquiry by himself, he became an Assistant Examiner.

As well as aspiring to become a university lecturer, it had long been an ambition of Tony to become a writer. Having always held a strong interest in family history, his first book was based on his great, great, great uncle, a patent medicine manufacturer and founder of Royal Holloway College: Thomas Holloway Victorian Philanthropist was completed in 86/87, and printed in 1990.

While researching for this book in 1985, a letter of his in the TES was noticed by Macmillan Publishers, and they approached him regarding the possibility of his writing an Introduction to Philosophy for their 'Mastering' series. This Tony duly accepted, and it too was published in 1990.

In 1988 Tony terminated his employment at Westbourne House, and he and Maeve moved to Ireland, to allow Tony more time to do his own research and writing. He had for many years been making notes for his magnum opus Culture and the Human Condition, but unfortunately for financial reasons, he had to continue to take on further commitments.

He continued teaching for London external B.A., and working as an examiner for IB and A-level. He set up his own private tutorial business, and became a teacher at Bandon Grammar School, initially to set up their computer studies, and then in 1989 as a Transition Year Teacher, covering a wide range of subjects. Also in 1989 he was made Honorary Visiting Fellow in the Philosophy Department at University College Cork, and he regularly attended (and occasionally presented) graduate seminars.

In 1994 Tony left Bandon Grammar School for a new appointment at The National Distance Education Centre ('Oscail') of Dublin City University, which proved to be extremely rewarding, both intellectually and financially. He was based at UCC, and held seminars, tutorials and lectures on the history of philosophy, on Plato, Aquinas and Kant, on the philosophy of religion and also ran the 'Introduction to Humanities' program. He continued to work for DCU for ten years.

In 1998, Tony was diagnosed with prostate cancer, his son Tristan died in tragic circumstances, and then Tony had a radical prostatectomy. Thankfully he received some relief from these three horrors: he was contacted by Professor David Berman of TCD, and was offered, and accepted, a part-time lectureship in continental philosophy. This entailed, as always, a huge amount of work, but Tony thoroughly enjoyed the experience — to be back at his alma mater Trinity again, and as a Philosophy Lecturer, was great.

Shortly after joining the 'Oscail' of DCU, he was approached by a Michael Mooney of TCD. Having read Mastering Philosophy, he thought Tony might be able to write a series of profiles of Western Philosophers, and trace connections between their ideas — a kind of intellectual history, to be entitled Philosophical Connections. Michael Mooney and a group of TCD graduates had plans to market and publish the work. After some thought Tony agreed. As the work progressed, however, there were times when he wondered whether he had made the right decision. It took an enormous amount of work over about seven or eight years, compiling profiles of 126 philosophers, with colour coded connections. This colour-coding system was constructively criticised by Trinity Philosophy Department, and Tony came up with the idea of a CD format, with hyperlinks.

Unfortunately the marketing/ publishing plans came to nought, and in 2006 it was all handed over to Tony. After several unsuccessful attempts at marketing it himself, in 2008 Geoffrey Klempner took over the project. He was the Founder and Director of 'Pathways School of Philosophy' and not only would he provide all of his new students with a copy of the CD-ROM, but he also embarked on converting the entire text of 900 pages into HTML format, so as to put the entire work on the world wide web. For Tony this was fantastic — at last all his hard work would be out in the world for all to see: to use, to learn from, and to appreciate.

Towards the end of compiling Philosophical Connections, Tony was also writing a full-length study of E.H. Visiak's work, something Tony had promised Visiak in the early 1970's a few years before he died. This was published in 2007.

But all of this work was at the expense of his own great masterpiece. Sadly Tony died in May 2009, with only the first chapter of Culture and the Human Condition completed.

Dr. Anthony Harrison-Barbet was a great and confident teacher and lecturer, clear and eloquent and hugely patient. He was a man of great wit and sense of humour, renowned by all for his daily use of puns and play on words. But on a personal level he was also a shy, reserved and private gentleman, honest and just and always respectful to anyone he met, and always grateful of any friendship and interest shown to him.

Anything one wanted to know one could ask of him: if he did not instantly know the answer he would drop whatever he was doing and look it up in a book. In fact the most common image one would have of Tony would be of him reading: The Times or Telegraph, poetry, periodicals, and a whole multitude of books to further his knowledge. He was an avid reader, and books, along with his computer and his beloved music (such a wide range of music) could keep him happy for days on end.

But he liked his breaks from intellectual stimulation. His pride and joy was his garden, which he tended to throughout the seasons for the 20 years that he lived in Bandon. Whilst gardening and growing his own produce, he would take great pleasure in observing and conversing with his feline and feathered visitors, whom he welcomed warm-heartedly.

He turned his hand to anything, DIY, mending, building and creating, and his holiday cottage at Ballinacarriga in the 1970's and 1980's was a much looked-forward-to project for him every year, occupying him for a full six weeks during the summer holidays. Tony was a very accomplished cook, in recent years taking over from Maeve all responsibilities for shopping and culinary duties (but not necessarily the washing up!). He produced with skill and pleasure great three-course feasts for all who came to stay. Stemming from his love for music he taught himself how to play the chromatic harmonica, treating his family to a fine rendition on New Year's Eve 2008. And he loved languages, learning through self instruction the rudiments of many. He took great enjoyment while abroad in being able to speak to people in their native tongue.

Tony felt very strongly the importance of families, and was always supportive and interested in everything and anything any of his children or grandchildren might be doing. He spent a whole lifetime researching family history — not just his own lineages, but those of the Duggan branches too. He has left this beautifully and clearly presented, both in written and CD-ROM formats; a fantastic legacy for future generations.

At his 70th birthday party in March 2009, despite having been extremely unwell for weeks beforehand, he surprised his family with an unforgettable speech which he had prepared in his mind, unbeknownst to anyone, on the subject of families. He assembled together 11 of his 14 grandchildren. Using the words of Matthew Arnold's poem Dover Beach — 'Ah my love, let us be true to one another' — he told them that whatever different ways life takes them, they must always look out for each other. As always, he spoke so eloquently; his serious message, along with his good humour, holding his audience captive, listening to his every word.

Although Tony would describe himself as being of no particular religion (having partaken of the Church of England, Roman Catholicism, Agnosticism and Atheism during his lifetime), he was in fact a very spiritual man.

He loved nature and wild places, and enjoyed the feeling of being at one with and part of the 'great stupendous whole'. He was strongly influenced by the Church of England choral and organ music of his youth, a love for which remained with him throughout his life. In recent years Tony read widely on Tibetan Buddhism, which he found to be of great benefit to himself. And indeed, along with his positive and happy outlook, it may well have helped him cope through the last few years of his cancer.

Prostate cancer undoubtedly played a large part in his life, living with it for over 11 years. How he dealt with it was a complete inspiration to us all. As with everything, he read widely on the subject, and knew all there was to know about the disease. He would uncomplainingly suffer whatever it threw at him, and then pick himself up and get on with his life, even right up until his final weeks.

To all who ever knew Dr. Anthony Walton Harrison-Barbet, he was a very thorough man, who always gave of his absolute best. He will be sadly missed by his wife, his daughters, his sons-in-law, his brother, his grandchildren and great-granddaughter; his family, friends and colleagues. He has passed on the torch to the next generation, and moved on to a new journey, as yet unknown to the rest of us.

Tony once pondered that at the end of his life he would '...finally escape from Matthew Arnold's 'darkling plain' and follow Milton's 'uncouth swain' — 'To morrow to fresh Woods and Pastures new'...'

Let us hope that he finds himself there, and that the legacies that he has left behind for us remain here for future generations.

© Cliona Dando 2009