As a Roman Catholic priest, a Canadian, and a PhD student at Trinity College, Bill Shea already had a firm set of identities and affiliations when he was invited to become one of the first 12 Darwin students in 1964. But 60 years on, ‘Darwinian’ is still key to how he sees himself.

“It was marvellous, absolutely delightful,” he recalls now. “All the colleagues had been chosen by one of the new Fellows, so it was not at random. There was a great feeling of enthusiasm, and a small group dedicated to making it work.”

Fellows and students ate together daily, fed by an “excellent chef” who still looms large in Bill’s memory, while he also remembers being invited by his contemporary Jack Goodison to be part of the fledgling Meals and Wine Committee.

“I’ve always taken a keen interest in something as serious as wine.”

The size of the community also ensured personal attention in other aspects of collegiate life.

“John Oates was deputy director of the library, and every few months he’d say to me ‘Bill, I’ve found a book I think you’d be interested in.’”

With a riverside room in the newly converted Old Granary, Bill relished both Darwin’s physical site and the connections he made across the new College.

“One of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met was Arnold Burgen (pharmacologist and later Master of Darwin). He was my mentor, guide and inspiration. The first Master, Frank Young, was a wonderful person too – it was a great privilege to have known these two.”

Darwin shaped Bill’s life in more ways than one. Having left the priesthood following a gradual realisation that the life was no longer a natural fit with his view of the world, he found himself introduced by Donald West, Fellow in Criminology, to “a charming young woman from Switzerland,” Evelyn Fischer.

After inviting her to Darwin for lunch he “thought she was marvellous, so I married her. We’re still married, and now have five children and 12 grandchildren.”

Bill has had a distinguished career as a Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science, holding academic positions in both Canada and Europe and publishing widely. Having spent most of his post-Darwin life in Switzerland, it’s been a long time since he was a regular visitor to Cambridge. But, he says:

“Speaking to you makes me feel that I’m not a complete ghost! That if I came back to Cambridge they might not say ‘who is this?’”

Haste ye back, Bill. You’re welcome any time.








Back to 60th Anniversary