Tribute to Patrick

Created by Anne one month ago

I first met Patrick at a names studies conference in the early 1980s. He had come with Flavia Hodges to recruit consultants for their very first dictionary together, the Oxford Dictionary of Surnames. I confess that I resisted Patrick’s powerful charm at that time, because I had too many other commitments and I wasn’t sure if I trusted his fluent, public school manner. I discovered years later from Patrick that he had gone to the same public school as my stepfather – Ardingly College in Sussex. Another surprise was that his parents had lived in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, the next place to where I was growing up in my teens, Chalkwell in Westcliff. If his parents hadn’t sent him to public school he’d probably have gone to the same grammar school that I did in Westcliff – but a year ahead of me.

As for resisting Patrick’s charm, I capitulated twenty years later when he and Richard Coates asked me to join their projected Family Names in the United Kingdom project. Patrick and his dictionary-making colleague Kate Hardcastle twice came to stay with me and my wife in Cottingham, near Hull, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time together. It was reciprocated when the Family Names project was in full swing, and I stayed several times at the cottage that Patrick had bought in Siston, so that he could work at UWE, where the project was based. I adored Siston, and had many happy days, nights and meals there, some of them cooked by Emily, who was living there at the time. You don’t need me to tell you that Patrick was great company, with a teasing sense of humour, and a truly generous friend. It ties in with the email that Liam Ó hAisibéil sent me, following Patrick’s death. Liam was one of the two Irish contributors to FaNBI, the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, and co-editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Ireland (FNI), which is an offshoot of FaNBI.

I was greatly saddened to receive this news last week. To think that such a character has passed on is quite a shock and I owe any of my association with FaNBI, FNI and to even be working on personal names to Patrick's encouragement and persistence, back when he came to the west of Ireland to strong-arm me into doing some EB work on FaNBI. It is such an unexpected end for someone so full of life and opinion! I had a couple of lovely visits with him at Siston that I will remember.

Liam mentions Patrick’s encouragement, persistence and strong-arm tactics. That rings true for us all, I guess. Patrick was unshakably determined to get what he wanted and he was one of the great persuaders. He needed to be, because all his dictionaries, his word dictionaries as well as his names dictionaries, were hugely ambitious in size, scope and informational content. They reflected the man himself. They were international in their focus, and informationally increasingly expansive, from his very first reference work, the Hamlyn Encyclopedic World Dictionary (no less!) of 1971, and his first word dictionary, the Collins English Dictionary of 1979, which is actually a dictionary of world English, with encyclopaedic entries on names of famous places and people. The pattern is there already of what was to come. His first two names dictionaries, the Oxford Dictionary of Surnames (1988) and the Dictionary of First Names (1990) are embryonic dictionaries of world surnames and world first names and they formed the seed bed for his two multi-volume surnames dictionaries, the Dictionary of American Family Names (DAFN) and FaNBI. They also contain some beautifully written introductory essays by Patrick. He was master of lucid and graceful prose.

As Patrick’s dictionaries grew in size over the years, they became increasingly reliant on his networking skills, persuading more and more people all over the world to handle the workload and supply the expertise. One of those was a very young Adam Rambousek of the Faculty of Informatics at Mazaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. This was where Patrick became a research fellow 2006–2008 and where he was awarded a PhD in computational linguistics. He had already got to know Adam in the late 1990s, when the two of them designed the database for DAFN. This new technology enabled Patrick to create even bigger and better dictionaries, based on a systematic selection of much larger, fully digitised data sets, and capable of being edited by several people simultaneously. It was his persuasiveness and his publishing connections – especially his time in the 1990s as OUP’s chief editor of Current English dictionaries – that got those data sets from other organisations into his own databases. He really was a remarkable operator, whose personal skills and leadership radically changed the content and the methodology of surnames dictionaries in Britain, Ireland and America.

Patrick’s ambitions stretched everything and everybody to their limits. People and projects sometimes got near to breaking point. Tempers could fray. The great persuader had to pull out all the stops. The projects were saved partly because Patrick had built such firm structures into the databases and partly because underneath the emotional turmoil there was an abiding affection and respect for him and from him. He hugely valued his colleagues, not least Damon Zucca of OUP in New York, whom Patrick had persuaded back in the1990s to get OUP funding for DAFN. Damon, who is now OUP’s Director of Reference, was the lynch pin in getting DAFN 2 published in spite of some very choppy waters in its later stages. It nearly sank. This is what Damon Zucca wrote to me on learning of Patrick’s death:
OUP would like to do something modest in commemoration, posting a short appreciation on one of our public platforms so it can be shared more widely. His influence at the Press is immense. More than once I threatened to cancel DAFN 2, but Patrick's determination to see the book through was so compelling, I backed down every time. I'm very glad that I did. The book is a massive achievement, and it is gratifying to know he was able to take some pleasure from the positive reception.

Patrick was deeply, deeply grateful to Damon for standing by him, and as Damon says, Patrick lived long enough to enjoy the acclaim that the second edition received. Early in 2023 it received an award from the American Library Association as one of the most significant reference works to appear in 2022, and it has just been given a detailed, glowing review in Onoma, the Journal of the International Council of Onomastic Sciences. I sent the review straight away to Patrick for one of the family to read to him. Judith was visiting him and I’m so glad that she could read it to him and that she could report back that he fully understood and was delighted to hear it. It will have meant a huge amount to him, and just in time. He died a few days later.

I took over the chief editorship of DAFN 2 at Patrick’s request in January 2021. He said he had brain fog from COVID, couldn’t concentrate and couldn’t use his computer. Diagnosis of dementia came later. I was touched by Patrick trusting me with this responsibility. It was nowhere in his nature to give up having the final say on his own baby. There was much to be done, in the final editing of surname entries, a huge job which was completed by his co-editor Simon Lenarčič, and in the writing and editing of the 35 introductory essays on surnames of the world. The immediate tasks were shared out between myself, Matt Vitale of OUP in New York, and Sonia Kropiowska, a PhD student in corpus linguistics at the University of Wolverhampton, where Patrick was a visiting professor. What impressed me was the range and quality of the essays. Together they form what is in effect a 165-page book on the origins and history of world surnames. There is nothing else in print or online to compare with this. Patrick’s death has brought a raft of messages of condolence from the contributors to DAFN, which I have sent on to the family. Sadness is mixed with admiration, gratitude and expressions of great friendship.
I’d like to read out a couple of them. This is from Horace Chen, who was Patrick’s expert on Vietnamese and Chinese names:
I am so sad to hear this news! Patrick was such a nice person in my memory even though we just communicated with each other by email. He gave me tremendous mental support many years ago when I was through a tough time in my life. I will miss him so much forever! May he rest in peace.  Please send my condolences to his family.
And this is from Sirkka Paikkala, whom Patrick recruited as a consultant and essay writer on Finnish surnames only three months before he became ill:

The news of Patrick's passing was really touching. Thirty years in such challenging dictionary work is a wonderful sailing in the sea of life. You can only achieve this if you have a deep calling and passion to do what you have come here to do on earth. He has had a mission according to which he has been able to bring joy and knowledge from his own field, not only to himself, but also to share it widely with others. At the same time, he has combined a wide range of writers in the same spirit. I got on this ship at the very last minute when in September 2020, he asked me to write to the 2nd Dictionary of American Family Names about Finnish surnames. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to become part of this team. Patrick has faithfully followed his star until the end of his life. Now that he has boarded a great white ship that puffs its sails into eternal light, his work and his memories remain here as the building blocks of our culture.
Yes indeed.