Popular Hull technician bids farewell after 54 fond years at University

It was the year England lifted their last football World Cup when teenage botanist Victor Swetez started working at the University of Hull.

For long-suffering football fans, the year will be engrained in the memory. For those not so keen on the sport, it was 1966.

Vic Swetez (right) with Dr Robb Robinson at the University of Hull.
Vic Swetez (right) with Dr Robb Robinson at the University of Hull.

Over half a century later – 54 years to be exact – Victor will clock off for the final time, as he takes well-earned retirement at the end of December.

It is a career full of highlights and fond memories, including meeting his wife of over 40 years, and a trip to Buckingham Palace itself.

“When I was 17, I spoke to the careers officer at school, and they asked what I was interested in doing in the future,” Victor said.

“I told them I was interested in plants, so they suggested contacting the botany department at the University. I came across to have a chat, and they said I was exactly the sort of person they were looking for.

“Things were very different in those days – I remember the person who offered me the job ringing what must have been HR, there and then, and saying ‘I’ve got a new person starting next week, could you add him to the staff list please?’”

In his early years at the University, Victor worked at the Botanic Gardens in Cottingham, assisting with teaching and research in the Botany department.

Later in his career, after the merging of three departments, Victor’s role diversified and he began working with and studying living creatures such as shore crabs, crayfish, marine worms, and lobsters.

Victor’s early days at the University also led to him meeting his wife Susan. The pair met in the early 1970s whilst working in the same department and married several years later. Today, they have been married for over 40 years.

Much has changed at the University since Victor first stepped foot on its campus.

“When I first started out, we used an abacus, as computers hadn’t been invented,” he said.

“I’ve seen a lot of new buildings appear over the years, but campus has always remained an incredibly friendly and pleasant place to work. 

“It is the people I will miss the most when I leave. I wouldn’t have worked at a place for over 50 years if it was not a good place to work, and it is the people who have made it so enjoyable.”

Victor’s recent years at the University saw him join the aquarium team at Hull.

In the 1990s, Victor also had the privilege of visiting Buckingham Palace at the invitation of the then-Vice-Chancellor David Dilks.

“I don’t know if they are still doing it today, but universities were given a couple of visits to the Palace each for functions and other events. That was a fantastic experience, and something I will never forget,” he said.

Victor joked that, at the time of his visit around 25 years ago, the Palace gardens and grounds were “not quite as fancy” as he expected.

“As someone interested in plants and gardens, I expected the grounds to be a bit more formal – they were quite normal really,” he said.

Victor will take retirement from the University at the end of the year.

He said he hopes, once COVID-19 has settled, to spend his retirement years with Susan on cruises around the world, as well as more time outdoors walking and tending to the garden.

“What I would say, with everything we have seen in the last year, is that I have seen the University face a lot of challenges over 54 years,” Victor said.

“COVID has been difficult for everyone, but the University will come through it – as it always has done before, in challenging times.”

[Phil Winter – University of Hull]

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