Catherine Walker, 1959-2017
13 December 2017
Catherine Walker, former Undergraduate Admissions Officer/Head of Undergraduate Admissions, has died aged 58. Claire Powell, Enquiries Manager, Student Marketing, offers a remembrance.
Catherine arrived from the University of Newcastle in 1996, astonishing the rest of the Admissions staff when we heard that she had asked for a new, more powerful computer before she started. This, we discovered, was because she understood Excel, and she soon started requesting data (data!) from the rest of the team and producing Admissions reports, thereby gaining a reputation for being technically savvy (which, compared to the rest of Admissions, she was, although this was not a particularly high bar to jump).
Her reports culminated with a Confirmation spreadsheet which was light years ahead of anything Admissions had had before, and led to the demise of the sweepstake run by one former Physics Admissions Tutor to ‘predict’ where we would be in relation to the targets in August. The Admissions Managers were so impressed with the reports, asking for more to be added each year, that they reached the Excel limits, sometimes ending, as Angela Milln, the former director, fondly remembers, with a return to the ‘back of the envelope’ calculations that were familiar from before Catherine’s arrival.
Catherine was Admissions Officer at a time of transition between old-style administration and a new era. She introduced several major changes to the way the admissions process was carried out during her time here, the most important being the centralisation of Undergraduate Admissions. This happened over a number of years and was approached with the usual Bristol ‘cautious but thorough’ methodology – pilots, committees, more pilots, yet more pilots, and vast amounts of tact and diplomacy.
In addition, she was also closely involved in the implementation of SITS in 1999, and the subsequent introduction of ‘admissinfo’, the predecessor of today’s Admissions dashboard.
Catherine also oversaw the introduction of UCAS Entry Profiles, which, like centralisation, were resisted for several years before a series were produced that were held up by UCAS as best examples of the genre.
A media furore in 2001 had the result of moving the perceived issues of social engineering, widening participation and ‘school type’ to the top of Bristol’s Admissions agenda, and Catherine was heavily involved in managing the consequences and effects of the media interest in Bristol. Having been a mature student herself, she had a great interest in promoting a widening participation agenda, and throughout her career at Bristol she remained true to treating all applicants with respect and dignity.
Catherine is remembered for her mischievous and very dry sense of humour, which prevented all of us in Admissions from taking ourselves too seriously; and for her slightly unconventional but down-to-earth approach to management. She recognised how cumbersome some of the bureaucracy could be, how pompous some of the old-school individuals, but nevertheless retained her complete professionalism, even under considerable pressure and provocation at times. We also remember her loyalty and support for her team, and her many kindnesses.
In later years Catherine contracted ME, but she was determined throughout her illness to do her job as effectively as possible.
She was fortunate that she left (in 2006) before today’s very competitive Admissions environment, making the brave (although probably not difficult) decision to give up her job in Bristol in favour of the uncertainties of life in Dorset without a ‘proper job’: something lots of people dream about but few have the courage to go through with.
She had 11 very happy years running a small holiday cottage business with her partner and life-long friend Liz, and pursuing her interests in photography, gardening and living a good life, in all senses of the words.
Catherine was diagnosed with a brain tumour in November 2016, and died on 15 November 2017, aged 58.