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Neville Drasdo obituary | Education

In the late 1940s and early 50s, my friend and colleague Neville Drasdo, who has died aged 87, was part of the Bradford Lads, one of the small groups of working-class youths who came to dominate the British climbing scene following the second world war.

Alongside his brother, Harold, Nev climbed in Yorkshire, the Lake District and further afield, helping establish classic routes in England, Scotland and Ireland.

For Nev climbing was a gateway to a different life. The hills were a melting pot of youngsters and he benefited from the opportunities the community opened up for him. From humble beginnings, he progressed to teaching and research and had a distinguished academic career in vision sciences and neurophysiology.

Born in Bradford, Nev was the second of three children of William, a town-hall clerk, and his wife, Ella, and went to Thornton grammar school. He left at 16, and, with an interest in science, decided to qualify as an optician. Unable to afford a full-time course, he studied applied optics for six years part-time at Bradford technical college.

Neville Drasdo, left, with with his friend Mike Dixon before setting off on a climb in Skye when they were teenagers

Neville Drasdo, left, with with his friend Mike Dixon before setting off on a climb in Skye when they were teenagers

Later, during national service, he worked as an optician at the RAF hospital in Wroughton, Wiltshire, where he so impressed the doctors that they suggested he take up teaching.

He began his academic career in 1961, as a lecturer in ophthalmic optics in the physics department of Birmingham College of Advanced Technology, which later became Aston University. There he set up the first master’s course in methods of ophthalmic investigation. His interests ranged widely, from work on the neural representation of visual space, published in Nature in 1977, to research on the retina of diabetics, published 25 years later in the Lancet.

In 1993 Nev was made a doctor of science (DSc) and became dean of life sciences at Aston. He then accepted a chair at Cardiff University and a productive period of research followed. He was elected life fellow of the College of Optometrists in 2009.

His students described him as an inspirational mentor and “an optometric polymath”, making research fun and exciting. Many professors say they owe their careers to Nev’s teaching. I climbed and researched with him and my memories are of his support and friendship, his dedication to family and his impish humour.

Nev continued climbing into his 70s and in 2000, with Harold, celebrated 50 years of new routing, with a first ascent of a climb in north Wales called “two against nature”.

He spent his last years coping with Parkinson’s disease, supported by his wife, Gillian, whom he had met in 1962 as a young primary school teacher; they were married for 56 years, retiring to Malvern, Worcestershire, a place they both loved. Typically, Nev treated Parkinson’s as a research opportunity, becoming an expert in the disease.

Nev is survived by Gillian, and their children, Alison and Duncan, granchildren, William, Ella, Callum and Tiernan, and his sister, Lynn. Harold died in 2015.

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