Sunday, 18 March 2012

Eulogy (Mike O'Sullivan)

Andrew Pullan joined the Department of Engineering Science in the early 1980s when he came over the road from Mathematics to do a PhD with Ian Collins on mathematical modeling of unsaturated groundwater. He completed his PhD in late 1987 and then tried a brief spell in the corporate world with Winstones (wearing a nice suit instead of shorts). Andrew missed the intellectual challenge of academic life and after a year or two returned again to Engineering Science. He quickly developed a research interest in mathematical modelling of the human gut and made excellent progress. His research achievements were recognized within the University by rapid promotion to a professorship. He also received many external awards and large research grants enabling him to set up a strong research team in the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and he established a large network of international collaborators. Perhaps the most notable of his awards were his James Cook Fellowship and his FRSNZ. I expected him to become the second FRS from Engineering Science.

As well as being a brilliant researcher Andrew was great teacher. He was interesting, inspirational and funny. He was always rated very highly by the students and he was a delight for any HOD to deal with. He could any teach subject, he could entertain and inspire classes of 250-300 engineers in MM1 or MM2 and he could challenge and excite small classes of 15-20 in final year Engineering Science electives. He never complained about his teaching load and his teaching was always superbly well organized.

Andrew was an excellent research supervisor over the whole range from Year 4 projects through to PhDs. He was demanding, but very helpful and it is not surprising that he assembled a large and very effective research team.

Andrew was a very loyal servant of the Department. During my time as HOD I knew I could ask him to carry out any service task and he would do an excellent job, on time and without complaint.

However he was not a perfect human being: he did not like coffee, beer or red wine. As part of his campaign to avoid becoming HOD he threatened that if appointed HOD he would remove the departmental coffee machine. Fortunately his campaign failed and he was HOD from 2007 to 2010 (the coffee machine stayed). All the KPIs for the Department improved during Andrew’s watch: we published more papers, raised more money, recruited more students etc, etc and we were happy. He was a very effective but friendly and compassionate leader.

His organization of our 40th Anniversary celebrations, together with the publication of a history of the Department, was excellent. His establishment of the “Next Top Engineering Scientist” problem solving competition for high school kids was a great idea and continues on very successfully.

Engineering Science has always been a very sociable department. Our tramping trips have been highlights, with day trips down the Pararaha Valley and longer trips around Lake Waikaremoana and over the Milford Track. Andrew was always a leader in these events and he was great company. He was so fit that he could talk the whole way while some of the rest of us were struggling for breath. And he was a great camp cook.

Andrew lived life at about 150% of the rate of most human being. He was full of ideas, full of energy, full of enthusiasm. He put enormous effort into everything he did. Research, teaching, administration, gym work, skiing, home renovations, serving on school boards, looking after his family – he did all of them exceptionally well.

I remember well one small example from the early 1990s of his approach to life. Andrew and I were the two staff members who accompanied a student field trip down to Wairakei and Taupo. One evening we took the students to the AC baths and Andrew organized a friendly game of water polo. Naturally he wanted his team to win and he nearly drowned two students making sure it happened.

Andrew died at age 48, just 23 years after gaining his PhD. I figure he was only about halfway through his academic career. He had already achieved great academic success but there was much more to come. We should celebrate a wonderful life lived very fully but I find it impossible not to grieve for what might have been. He will be greatly missed by the Department of Engineering Science and the Auckland Bioengineering Institute but he will be very fondly remembered.

At my age one occasionally thinks of death and dying. In my day dreams on the topic I assemble a group of family and friends that will support me at the end. Andrew Pullan is always near the front rank of this group and I had imagined that he would be one of the people saying nice things at my funeral. Sadly this cannot happen now. I will greatly miss him.


At 18 March 2012 at 09:18 , Anonymous Rosalind Archer said...

The last two posts are eulogies delivered at Andrew's funeral. Three more eulogies will be posted here as well when the text is available.


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