Remembering Tony Austin

Image of Tony standing outside the ADs offices

Many friends of ADS will remember Tony Austin, who sadly died on 9 April 2019, aged 69. Tony was a key figure at the ADS during our formative years, his dry and understated sense of humour, knowledge and enthusiasm will be missed by all of us who worked with him.

Tony first came to York in 1992 as a mature undergraduate student, following a previous career as a betting shop manager. However, Tony felt he had seen enough of the racetrack and was particularly fascinated by early medieval archaeology. He dug with me at the Viking site at Cottam, and with Martin Carver at Portmahomack. He was an excellent excavator and later returned to work as a site supervisor for me at Cottam and Heath Wood.

He won the Charles Wellbeloved prize for the best undergraduate dissertation in 1995, writing about Viking Chester; a paper based upon his dissertation was published in 1997 in volume 74 of the Journal of the Chester Archaeology Society. He stayed on to study for the MA in Medieval Archaeology but his computing skills were also excellent, and he impressed me at an early stage with an outstanding relational database exercise, then a compulsory requirement for all York undergraduates. Tony went on to develop these skills and in 1997 he went to Staffordshire University to undertake a MSc in their computing department, which included intensive training in Oracle and Unix. However, he didn’t stay away from York for long, returning in 1998 to undertake an internship for his Masters, working with Paul Miller on the development of the first version of ArchSearch. Tony’s Oracle skills proved invaluable and on completion of his Masters we were able to keep him on, initially as a Curatorial Officer and Programming Assistant, and eventually becoming Systems Manager.

Photograph of the Charles Wellbeloved prize winners board located in the Archaeology Department. Tony's name is listed as prize winner for 1995.

During this period, Tony was an integral part of the success story of ADS, working initially on the HEIRNET and ARENA portals, and then keeping our backend-systems running, and supervising the work of the archivists.  It was in this role that he is particularly fondly remembered, his quiet and gentle patience, his unflappable good humour, and his one-fingered typing endeared him to all who encountered him. At a recent ADS pub trip to toast his memory, a number of stories were shared about Tony’s best ADS moments: setting the bin on fire with a casually discarded cigarette (pre strict King’s Manor Health and Safety!), his love of coffee and Twixes, the one time he ate an apple, his penchant for yellow post-it notes, flooding Tim’s office with coffee, his novel approach to luggage, or the time an exasperated member of IT Services suggested that the reason his computer wasn’t booting was due to the mound of paper currently pressing down the Escape key… The fact that all these stories were met with good natured laughter showed the huge extent of good feeling to Tony from his colleagues, a feeling that was also mixed with respect for his technical abilities, loyalty, and pragmatic and well-meaning advice that he regularly passed onto his younger colleagues. Many current members of staff owe a debt of gratitude to Tony for guiding them through the mysteries of Oracle, and indeed his printed notes on SQL are still being used as a learning resource for our current crop of trainee digital archivists.

He stayed with ADS until retirement in 2013, although he was still a regular visitor to King’s Manor, where he would pop his head round the door to say a quick hello and catch up on events both professional and personal. He also continued to take busman’s holidays post retirement, working with Steve Roskams at Mothercombe and Malton. His postcards from his trips to archaeological sites were also frequent and much welcomed, in typical Tony style they were always short and to the point. A staff favourite simply being: “At Hadrian’s Wall. It’s raining”.

He leaves his wife Elizabeth, who he met as an undergraduate, and who he dug with at Cottam and Heath Wood. They married in 2017, and the reception in their garden near Pickering was attended by many ADS staff, old and new.

He will be much missed.