On Monday I learned two things about Amanda, my wife. Neither of them surprised me. First, I received an email from a scientist I have never met, that said:-
“Amanda taught me as an undergraduate at Nottingham University (2000-2003) and was one of the first people to inspire my enduring passion for neuroscience. It was an absolute privilege to be taught by her. I am now a neuroscience researcher and Amanda’s work still inspires and influences my thinking to this day; something that will undoubtedly continue despite her untimely death.”Dr Andrew Nelson, Cardiff University
And a little later, as I was getting out of the car, a neighbour approached me and said:-
“I’m so sorry for your loss. Your wife was a lovely lady. She never walked past me in the street; she always stopped to talk.”
Amanda was special to different people in different ways and in her time she played many parts. Her roles included:- biker, zoo-keeper, manager of a rock band, big sister, wife, mother, dog-breeder, buddhist, university teacher, neuroscientist, company director, good neighbour and supercool gran. In each of her roles Amanda won friends and admirers. Acknowledging the range and diversity of her achievements helps to shift from mourning her death to celebrating her life.
Amanda was born in Crewe on September 4th 1955 to Kenneth Crane, a fitter at the railway works, who died in 1968, and Pamela, née Hill, a telephone operator, who died in 2013. Her early childhood was happy and conventional. She loved animals and particularly enjoyed nature walks in the Cheshire countryside with her father. Her brother Jonathan (now known as ‘Jon’) was born when she was ten and she loved having a little brother and looking after him. Jon also has fond memories of Mandy, as Amanda was known in her younger years.
The family all loved flowers. Kenneth and Amanda used to enter flower-arranging competitions together. Pamela was also very knowledgeable about English flowers and loved to see real flowers in floral designs. Amanda’s enthusiasm for flower arranging lasted her whole life. Even during her illness she relished a floral challenge. I would buy her assortments of apparently incompatible supermarket flowers, which she would always turn into elegant arrangements.
Kenneth was a great believer in education, both for himself, he trained as a draughtsman and became a railway manager, and for his children. Amanda won a place at Crewe Grammar School for Girls, came top of her class in her first year exams and was set to become an academic success. This all changed just before her thirteenth birthday, when her father’s sudden death from a stroke blew her world apart.
Amanda’s teenage years were less settled. She left school at sixteen with seven ‘O-levels’ and went to South Cheshire College. She became a biker. Jon remembers fondly that when, as a five-year old, he broke his leg very badly and had it in plaster, Amanda looked after him, probably in a way that might have given Pam some cause for concern: “Mandy and her biker friends took me out in a sidecar, probably much to my mother’s displeasure.”
Amanda managed a rock band. Her first serious boyfriend died in a car crash when she was 18. She worked for a year as a zookeeper. She started a career in hotel management but gave up after a year and married Simon Parker, a lorry driver. They had a son, Kris, literally her pride and joy. Amanda’s relationship with Kris was a delight to observe: they were extremely close and unfailingly supportive of each other to the end of her life. Unfortunately her relationship with Simon was less robust and their marriage was dissolved after seven years although they always remained friendly.
To support herself and Kris, Amanda needed income. A life-long dog lover, she was interested in ancient breeds, many of which originated in Japan or China. She analysed supply and demand, made herself an expert on dog genetics, and started breeding Akitas. Originally a Japanese bear-hunting dog, the Akita was a rarity in western Europe and highly sought after. Amanda’s breeding operation was a success, she sold dogs in the UK and abroad, and several of them won prizes.
Although she enjoyed breeding dogs, Amanda needed more intellectual stimulation, and began to look for a more cerebral occupation. On the advice of a career consultant, she started a degree in philosophy and psychology at Crewe and Alsager College in 1987.
Amanda was a natural academic. She was awarded a first class honours degree and went on to Keele University to do research on human memory, which led to a PhD. From Keele she moved to Oxford, to join one of the world’s leading research groups investigating the cognitive neuroscience of memory. After four years at Oxford she won a fellowship to spend five years at the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda Maryland, USA. NIMH is one of the biggest concentrations of cognitive neuroscience researchers on the planet and has been the launch pad for the careers of some of the world’s most distinguished neuroscientists.
Amanda’s move to the USA was short-lived. For family reasons she decided to look for a job nearer home. Amanda’s research achievements made her an outstanding candidate for a lectureship in Psychology at the University of Nottingham, so she returned to the UK in 1999 after spending only six months at NIMH.
Amanda was a natural teacher as well as a gifted researcher and was popular with students and staff at Nottingham. It was at Nottingham that she and I met. We started working together, hatching plans for an exciting new venture that would combine her research on the neuroscience of memory with mine on the neuroscience of vision. Our theory was that new understanding would come from studying how vision contributes to memory and how memory influences vision.
Soon after we began working together, we fell in love. We began living together in 2001 and got married in 2003. We had a wonderful relationship that lasted almost twenty years and we remained utterly besotted with each other until the end. Our only regret was that our life together began so late and finished so early.
Gradually over the next decade, research became less important to us and family more. I became interested in university management and Amanda in business. We moved to the University of Kent in 2007 and then to Liverpool University in 2010. But the arrival of Charlie, Amanda’s first grandchild, in 2010, meant that Edinburgh became the centre of our universe. Not long after that we set up a consultancy company and moved to Edinburgh to be closer to the grandchildren.
Charlie and Olivia are delightful and Amanda was a truly exceptional grandmother. She loved buying them presents, things they knew they wanted, like Star Wars Lego for Charlie and, better, things they had never dreamed of, like a drum kit for Olivia. The only limit to the number of presents was the capacity of their house. But Amanda found a way around that by creating a stash of presents at our house.
Even better than buying presents, Amanda loved doing things with Charlie and Olivia – feeding the ducks, playing on the swings, painting, playing music, and more recently, arguing about prog rock with Charlie. Somehow she never convinced him of the merits of King Crimson! Amanda and the children also shared an interest in painting and drawing, and during her final illness, Charlie and Olivia would send her pictures every day to brighten her hospital room.
Amanda (Elizabeth Amanda Derrington) died peacefully at St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh on July 4th 2020 after being ill with cancer for 6 months. She is survived by her brother, Jon, her son, Kris, her two grandchildren, Charlie and Olivia, and her husband, Andrew.
There will be a private funeral in Edinburgh at 9:30 on July 14th. The current regulations restrict attendance to immediate family only. We plan to have a memorial service and a party to celebrate Amanda’s life, in summer 2021. Please do not send flowers. If you would like to donate please see Amanda’s charitable giving page.