Derek William Forrest (1926–2015)

An appreciation from Howard Smith (Trinity College Dublin).

It is with great sadness that we learned that Derek Forrest, former Professor of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin, died following a stroke in September 2015, at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife, Pam, and daughter, Tansy.

Derek Forrest was born in Liverpool, the son of a cotton salesman. From his earliest years Derek stood out from the crowd: he attended Birkenhead School on the Wirral, where he became head boy. He went from school up to Cambridge University, where he started a degree in German, but he was called up for naval service before it was complete. In the Royal Navy he spent time on HMS Implacable, and worked in radar. Following his naval service, Derek returned to his academic studies and took a degree in Psychology, Philosophy, and Physiology (PPP) at Keble College, Oxford. Always a good athlete, he represented Oxford University in both swimming and athletics. After graduating from Oxford he worked at the Aircraft Research Laboratory in Farnborough for a year, before being appointed lecturer at Bedford College, London, where he subsequently obtained his PhD, before coming to Trinity College Dublin. His academic interests were broad and eclectic; he had a detailed knowledge of psychoanalysis and an abiding interest in important figures and events in the history of psychology. He is probably best known for his books Francis Galton: The Life and Work of a Victorian Genius (1974), and The Evolution of Hypnotism (1999), though he also wrote Defy Your Age (2008) for a more general audience. Regrettably he was unable to complete his book on the Tichborne affair (the longest running court case in Victorian England) before he died. He was a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, the Psychological Society of Ireland, the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Derek Forrest founded the Psychology Department at Trinity singlehandedly. Initially he was appointed in 1962 as a Reader in Psychology in the School of Mental and Moral Science. Within a short time he was given responsibility for developing a Psychology Department of his own and by 1965 the first students were admitted to an honours degree programme in which it was possible to take psychology as a major subject in a conjoint course with philosophy. He was appointed as the first Professor of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin in 1968. At first in his department he had only two lecturers working with him to offer not only the honours course but also to provide additional teaching in general studies and social studies. Subsequently Derek guided the migration of the department through the Faculty of Natural Science into the Faculty of Arts (Humanities), where it was able to offer a single honour degree in psychology. Under Derek’s headship the department started to train clinical psychologists at postgraduate level and he also developed proposals for the training of counselling psychologists – initiatives which eventually led to the current doctoral courses offered by the School of Psychology in those two disciplines. Derek’s public talks and demonstrations of hypnosis were hugely popular, and he also pioneered the offering of an evening course for the public, an initiative which has gone on to be a very popular and successful annual event.

The world was a very different place from today when Derek was first appointed to Trinity College Dublin. The profession of clinical psychology barely existed in Ireland. The original department was established in a fairly dilapidated terraced house in Westland Row, and Derek and his wife, Pam, decorated some of the offices themselves. Funds for running the department were very limited; the departmental budget was so tight that even phone calls were regarded as a luxury. Sophisticated equipment was almost unobtainable, and that needed for research and teaching was made in-house by the very able technicians. In those early days research funding was very scarce, but Derek obtained a significant research grant in the late 1960s that allowed the appointment of a new staff member.

Derek presided over a department that was happy and stimulating for both staff and students. He was in some ways quite a shy person, but to those whom he knew well he was the most charming and engaging companion. He encouraged his colleagues to follow their own interests and was also inspirational in his questioning and the generation of provocative ideas. His easy-going style and interesting lectures and tutorials were very popular with students, and fellow members of staff delighted in his company. They would head towards the staff room at coffee and lunch time attracted by his big booming laugh. Over lunch or coffee, he would typically introduce some controversial topic which would lead to animated discussion all round. Staff would come in to the department on weekends, not because they were overwhelmed with work but because the whole experience was such a pleasure. He was a charismatic figure who cannot possibly be adequately described in a few short paragraphs. Derek Forrest represented the essence of an academic of his time. Although he retired in 1996, he is still remembered with great affection by those who were members of his department.

 

 

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