Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Derek Holmes RIP - Obituary

The funeral of Derek Holmes took place today in Lacock, Wiltshire.

Here is an obituary in honour of Derek's life:

"Wise, insightful and courageous with a passion for railways that is unsurpassed in an industry full of people who are passionate about the job"

This was one route director's description of Derek Holmes, Network Rail's operations director, who has sadly passed away after almost 30 years on the railway.

Derek was born in Dundee on 12th June 1959 to Bill and Helen and already had a big brother to bother in the form of Bill (junior). Bill senior was already a signalman in the Dundee area.

On leaving school Derek decided painting and decorating was the job for him and he built up a good reputation in this trade, typified by getting the job of completely refurbishing the crossing keeper's house at Templehall, Longforgan.

This job was to be prophetic as soon afterwards, having caught the railway bug from his father, Derek joined the Dundee area signalling team in 1981, starting a Broughty Ferry signal box. Over the next seven years Derek moved from box to box, earning promotion as he went, ending up in Edinburgh signalling centre as a supervisor.

In 1988 he moved from track to trains becoming InterCity's traffic manager ending up in Buchanan House (Scotland's rail headquarters) in 1992 as performance planning manager.

In 1994 Derek joined the newly-formed Railtrack as its performance manager for Scotland. He was then tempted south of the border with more promotional opportunities in the form of production manager for the Great Western in 1997 where he became zone director in 2001.

He then moved to HQ as operations director for the entire country, a role he retained and made his own when Network Rail took over from Railtrack in October 2002.

An operations manager from Perth, Colin Weir, remembers him well:

"Derek was an inspirational leader and individual. His positive outlook and endless drive and determination inspired not just me but many others.

"He came from the grassroots as an operator and understood the challenges faced by the frontline teams and drove major contributions to operational safety such as the voice communications protocols that have made a real difference.

"Derek was always supportive of those who wanted to progress and learn and would coach many staff to strive to be the best they could be and not allow where they came from affect what they achieved.

"Despite moving to work in London and being the head of operations, I remember when I sent him an email asking if he remembered me and if he would mind giving me a bit of advice for a upcoming interview. Within five minutes he rang me and spent a considerable amount of time and effort in helping me.

"His support, achievement and positive approach touched not only me but many others and inspired them to attempt things they may not otherwise have done. There are many thousands of people working in the rail Industry but very few who contributed as much, inspired as much, and will be missed as much."

Derek Simpson, Scotland's route director, said of Derek:

"I first knew Derek when we were both performance managers in Railtrack days, and even back then he was renowned for his immaculate appearance and also for his knowledge and his willingness to support others.

"I recall a management meeting in Birmingham shortly after Network Rail had taken over from Railtrack at which observations were made about the industry. The then chief executive, John Armitt, piped up "what the railway needs is more Derek Holmess" - this underlined Derek’s reputation."

Iain Coucher, Network Rail's chief executive said:

"Our thoughts and sympathy are with Derek's wife and family. Both I and the executive team knew him well and we are devastated by Derek's illness and death.

"Derek was a brave man, commended for his rescue work during the London bombings in 2005. Network Rail is proud that he worked at our company and that as individuals we knew him. It is often said at times like this, that we will sorely miss our colleagues and friends; for us, that could not be more true."

Derek was renowned for several traits; immaculate dress sense - the perfect Windsor tie knots - optimism, enthusiasm, knowledge and professionalism of the highest order and not least, the quizzical raising of an eyebrow if what he was being told did not have the ring of truth around it.

Derek’s reputation was lasting and widespread across the rail industry and he leaves behind a much loved wife and two daughters.

Derek's family held a small funeral for family and close friends today (27th January) in Lacock, Wiltshire. Attending were a handful of Derek's closest colleagues representing the entire railway.

A memorial service for Derek is being arranged in London in a few months to enable the wider industry to pay their last respects.

Any donations in memory of Derek will be forwarded to Macmillan Cancer Support through Messrs E Wootten, Funeral Directors, 47 Market Place, Chippenham, Wiltshire.