We were saddened to learn of the death last week of John Symons, former Curator of Early Printed Books and a long-time member of the Library’s staff. Though John had suffered from ill health since his early retirement in 2005, he kept in touch with old friends and only recently attended the retirement party for Professor Vivian Nutton (a long time colleague and friend) held in the library.
After reading Greats at Oxford, and attending the library school at University College London, he joined the Wellcome staff in 1968 as an Assistant Librarian, specializing in early printed books. Here he stayed, succeeding Harold Denham as Chief Cataloguer in 1982, and gaining an unrivalled knowledge of the bibliography of medicine. He was appointed as the first specialist Curator of Early Printed Books in 1988.
John will be remembered as a supremely dedicated rare books librarian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of both the Library’s collections and internal Wellcome history. His history of the Wellcome Institute, published in 1993, only hinted at the many ways in which he had sought out members of staff, some from the 1920s, and their families, and collected documents and reminiscences. He was joint compiler of the third volume of the Wellcome Catalogue of Books printed before 1850, and was responsible for its continuation – the fifth and final volume being published in 2006. Its completion was a fitting monument to his devoted work over a lifetime of bibliographical scholarship. He was always eager to place his learning at the service of scholars and many within and beyond the Library will have cause to remember his myriad kindnesses in assisting them with enquiries and more extensive research questions.
Few former Wellcome Library staff have made a greater impact on the Library as experienced by its users over time, and surely none ever will again.
Author: Julianne Simpson