Tribute to Dr Val Hempleman

by Dr John Bevan


How will we remember Val, or "Hemp" as he was affectionately known to his friends around the lab?


I know that each one of us will have a special place in our hearts where we will remember Val.  Val has touched and enriched all our lives.  And each one of us will have his or her own very special memories.


So how will I remember Val?


To me, Val was the quintessential, gentleman scientist.


He was blessed with a wealth of endearing characteristics. And despite his senior position and formidable international reputation, Val was the embodiment of modesty and humility. 


I'll remember especially his patience, his tolerance, his compassion, his old-world charm and his self-deprecating sense of humour. 


I'll remember his team leadership.  With all due respect to the late Dr Taylor, when Val assumed the mantle of Superintendent of RNPL, it was as if a veil had been lifted, and RNPL joined the 20th century. 


With Val at the helm, the RNPL team spirit thrived.  He was generous to a fault with sound advice and moral support.  Despite his demanding work-load, Val always had time for you, whenever you needed it.  He was a true egalitarian and his door was always open to you.  In a world of givers and takers, Val was squarely in the camp of the givers.


I'll remember how he once helped fellow scientist John Towse, John had hit what appeared to be an insurmountable problem in a research a project.  Val, as he often did, helped sympathetically by relating a parable.  He explained to John how the most complex problems, can sometimes have very simple solutions.  You just had to find it.  Val related the story of one day he had been buying a strip of plastic, for a DIY job he was doing at home.  But he became concerned about some black printing on the plastic which appeared to be permanent and would be unsightly.  Despite his Cambridge education in chemistry and physics, he could not work out how he could remove the stubborn printing without destroying the plastic.  So he asked the young shop assistant how could he remove it. The assistant replied "you turn it over".


I'll remember his genuine concern for the welfare of his staff.  I don't think the heavy burden of responsibility, for pioneering human experiments, rested easily on his shoulders.  Back in 1970, during the 1500 ft dive, I know that Peter Sharphouse and I worried about Val worrying about us! Perhaps Val's concern was because Val himself had been a guinea pig in many physiological experiments in his early days at RNPL. And this included being subjected to underwater explosions, at the hands of Dr Cam Wright.


But most of all, I'll remember his inexhaustible enthusiasm for his work.  Whenever he would enthuse about some experiment or other, where someone had made a quantum leap forward in diving physiology, such as Buhlman or Keller, the pitch of his voice would climb and climb, until it reached an almost inaudible, ultrasonic squeek.  Such was his enthusiasm.


I have to say that the six brief years I spent working with Val at RNPL were the happiest and most satisfying years of my life.


Val, for all these memories, and so much more, on behalf of all of us who were privileged to work with you, thank you.