We are sorry to announce that Eric Poyser has passed away. The following obituary is courtesy of his family.
When Eric Poyser went up Trinity Hall half-way through the War in 1942, he increasingly felt he should be making his contribution to the War effort. This was not totally straightforward as he was reading Maths with an Exhibition, and the government of the day were keen for mathematicians (and scientists) to stay on at Cambridge as a ‘reserved occupation’ as it was felt their skills may be more useful at home. Despite this, Eric won his way with the Navy Board, survived the War, and returned to Trinity Hall a somewhat older man in 1946, mixing with undergraduates who had just left school.
His memories of Trinity Hall in 1942-43 were that it was ‘subdued and there was a constant search for alcohol. My shared rooms were the target for parties as they were larger than most, being normally allocated to Fellows of the College.’ Despite the parties, he was able to get a First in his part I in Maths and he records that on the same day as seeing this announced on the college noticeboard, he went straight to join his fellow Cambridge recruits commissioned into the Navy on HMS Ganges.
His wartime twice weekly one-to-one meetings with his Maths tutors were in other colleges. He was very impressed with the quality of Law at Trinity Hall which was partly why he chose the subject he returned after the War. At the time, arrangements were made by the University for various undergraduates who had served in the War to get their degrees in two years. ‘Cambridge in 1946/7 was different from Cambridge 1942/3’ he wrote. ‘Although the ‘peace’ background was more relaxing there was an earnestness in the atmosphere, a need to catch up. Also, the undergraduate age range had changed from 18-21 to a much larger range of 18 up to ‘old men’ of 25 or 26. …It was good to meet old friends from 1942/3, and in general the ex-service undergraduates tended to relate better, but never arrogantly’. Perhaps it was this ‘earnestness’ or perhaps the time that he had spent while a liaison officer to the Italian Navy during the war that took Eric, and several of his undergraduate friends, to the University Catholic chaplaincy at Fisher House, then under the influential Monsignor Gilbey. Eric converted to Roman Catholicism while at Trinity Hall, along with others who became lifetime friends. His Catholicism remained an extremely important lynchpin throughout his life till he died aged 98.
Eric was born in Nottingham, the youngest of four with three older sisters, and was the first in his family to go to university. Prior to Trinity Hall, Eric was educated at Rugby School, where he had been Head of House. During the War, after dropping mines in the North Sea and serving time in submarines, he was trained for liaison work, particularly with the Italian Navy as the Italian government had, by that stage, changed sides to fight with the allies against Mussolini and Hitler. In his words, he was ‘highly promoted’ in order to make the Italians feel they had someone very important. As a 20 year old Royal Navy liaison officer, he had to tell experienced Italian officers more than twice his age whether or not the Royal Navy wished them to fire at any German ships they spotted. He concluded his War service with a spell in the British Embassy in Belgrade which apparently included some covert work in support of intelligence agencies.
After Cambridge, he moved to London, trained as a Chartered Accountant with Deloitte’s and joined the Newman Association, an organisation for Roman Catholic graduates, of which he became national President from 1959-61. The secretary working at the Association headquarters was Pamela Parkes who he married in 1950, in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Cathedral. Together they had four children – Edward, Angela, David and Crispin.
Eschewing lucrative job offers overseas when Pamela became pregnant for the first time, Eric built up the Nottingham-based family retail jewellery business, founded by his grandfather, from one shop to eight and was closely involved with the business until its sale in 2005. As a committed retailer, with that same independence of mind that had drawn him to Catholicism against his family tradition, he bravely instigated a revolt of a group from the Retail Trade Section of the Chamber of Commerce in the 1970s and set up an alternative retailers’ association to, as they saw it, ‘protect the motorist from the local authority plan to encircle the city and impede access to it’. During this period, he was a regular on the front page of the Nottingham Evening Post and on East Midlands television.
He was always keen to share his experience running businesses and his training in accountancy (and, no doubt, the one year of Law at Trinity Hall) in public life in Nottingham. This included initially chairing the Finance Committee of the Nottingham Area Health Authority, and from 1979 chairing the Health Authority (later the Nottingham District Health Authority) itself. This was in the early days of the major new (currently somewhat infamous) Queen’s Medical Centre and the growing Nottingham City Hospital. Again, this led to much local publicity. He was also a long-serving Director of the Nottingham Building Society (and its Vice-Chair for a period), on the Board of the Nottingham Trustee Savings Bank and a magistrate for the City of Nottingham, but never took an active part in politics.
Nationally he was Chairman of the UK’s National Association of Goldsmiths (1964-7) and later Treasurer and then President. As a result of this experience, he held various international roles in the jewellery business and he was particularly honoured to be elected the first British President of the international jewellery organisation CIBJO, whose role includes lobbying various international organisations such as the EU about standards in jewellery. Perhaps exceptionally for a Midlands businessman, he was a supporter of the EU and he, together with many others, campaigned hard for the introduction of a European Directive on precious metal trading in a way which, they felt, would best help the consumer while placing suppliers across the EU on a level playing field.
He was a loyal husband and an enthusiastic father, grandfather and great-grandfather, especially when he could patiently teach chess, dinghy sailing (from his time in the Navy) or golf. While watching television with his family, he was not so much actually watching it as enjoying being in the same room as his family, while simultaneously working on some activity associated with his business interests or public life.
His enthusiasm for public life continued well into his 80s, serving on the British Hallmarking Council for as long as 26 years (he had been involved in lobbying for the 1973 Hallmarking Act that set it up). He also enjoyed his trips to London into his 80s, not least his trips as a Liveryman at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. In written memories of his life, he mentioned how much he enjoyed playing bridge at Trinity Hall in the War, and indeed continued playing competitively in his 90s until his failing memory finally defeated him. At his last Trinity Hall reunion he was the oldest person there, but throughout his life remained very proud of his association with the college.