David Vernon Donnison was an Emeritus Professor and Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Urban Studies. He previously held the Chair of Town and Regional Planning from 1980-1991.
David, who died earlier this month, was one of the writers I interviewed for the book Autumn Voices: Scottish writers over 70 talk about creativity in later life. I probably would not have met him but for this project. I am very glad I did. He was over 90 at the time of interview and the oldest person in the book. Old in years, but remarkably active, alert and writing poetry to the very end. He also made a valuable contribution to this Autumn Voices blog with his guest blog on Creativity in Later Life.
David was a role model in so many ways: his caring values and social conscience, his creative energy despite his age, his relaxed attitude to death. Here was a man who made a positive contribution to society and a difference to people’s lives at many levels.
A couple of months after the interview with David, he sent me a poem he had written for Burns Night. I include it here because it sums up so much about his wit and his attitudes and insights into his own ageing:
O wad some power the giftie gie us
to give not a toss how others see us!
What others? And what self?
Ancient prof, left lonely on the shelf?
Father figure? Scholar revered?
Friendly neighbour? Neighbour feared?
Elderly fellow, tottering down the street?
Former athlete shaky on his feet – ?
each a relic of his long lost youth.
Each containing a bit of truth.
If there’s work worth doing, get out, stir about!
You haven’t long before the lights go out.
David’s next book will be called Living Our Dying and he wrote this poem after a visit to his oncologist:
DEADLINE OF DEATH
I join the queue to see my oncologist,
waiting the usual forty-five minutes.
(But do not complain: he’s giving each patient
the time they need.) The man ahead
is wearing his funeral suit: dark serge,
silk tie and shiny white shirt,
his worried wife escorting him.
(This doctor may give us sentence of death.)
When my turn comes he gives me warning
of rising test scores. No point in asking
“How long have I got?” So I put my question
in a different form. “I’m sending my publisher
“my latest book. Planning the next.
“Should it be brief? Done in one year?
“Or will I have time for a longer work? “
“Two or three years” he replies with a smile.
“But do remember: at your age
anything can happen at any time.”
So I’d better get started. No time for rhymes.