- Obituary Derek Wise 30 June 1925–9 June 2012
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Derek Wise was a passionate supporter of the Byron Society London from when he joined the Executive Committee in 1988 until his death. He became the Chairman in 1989 taking over from Ian Scott-Kilvert and held office until 1996 when I had the honour to succeed him. He became Deputy Chairman and remained so until he became a Vice President in 2010. Derek was a great contributor to the Byron Society using his extensive knowledge of the poet and his works for everybody’s advantage. In his later years he became an antiquarian book dealer and was well known in Byron antiquarian book circles, always ready to give his knowledge to those beginning a collection and helping those with mature collections. Derek was in every way a bookish man, a great reader of books, a collector of books and a buyer and seller of books. There were frequent occasions when I would ring Derek on a Byron bibliographical point and usually he was able to give me an accurate answer.
Like many of us, Derek treasured the Society’s ownership of The Byron Journal and served on its Editorial Board giving guidance and being a contributor. I remember him saying to me that while The Byron Journal had to maintain the highest academic standards it should also be a journal for the lay reader, for the non-academic members of the society. Many Byron collectors often seem more interested in the life of the poet rather than his work; in Derek’s case, he was enthusiastic about both the life and the works. [End Page 99] A great attender of International Byron Conferences, Derek’s erudition led to many interesting and amusing discussions late into the night, making one think that Byron was still around somewhere!
Notwithstanding Derek’s Byron interests, as we know from the extremely sympathetic and interesting address at his funeral by his son Oliver, Derek packed a great deal into his life. As a schoolboy he could ride, shoot, sail, play the flute and the piano, played squash well and built an old-fashioned radio. Oliver told us that the compliment his father most relished receiving in all his life came from his boy’s maid (a woman who cleaned his room at Eton) who had heard of his academic success but was more impressed by his making a radio: ‘Oh Mr Wise, you are a geni-ass’. He was a top scholar in his year at Eton winning the King’s Prize for French and sharing the King’s Prize for German. Again as Oliver told us, ‘not bad for a boy whose House Master told him his real strengths lay in Latin and Greek!’ Derek went on to read Russian at King’s College Cambridge. Even at that early age he had antiquarian book fever, using prize money to buy books in Cambridge and sell them for a profit in London. His time at Cambridge was cut short, however, as he went to train as a Fleet Air Arm pilot in America and went on to fly aircraft during World War II on aircraft carriers that were fighting in the open sea where one’s chances of survival were slim. Derek survived the war and he was still a teenager. He once told Oliver: ‘I was very surprised to survive the war. I had always assumed I would be killed’.
Derek came from a brewing family; his father was the late Colonel Harry Wise MC and his mother Audrey née Charrington. He was brought up in the Suffolk countryside at Washbrook near Ipswich and had a brother Lancelot (Larney). He must have had a charmed life as one afternoon in late 1939 he was walking home across the fields when a lone German plane swooped down and fired off some rounds of a machine gun at him. Derek ran for cover and hurled himself to the ground. He said he never told anyone at home as he didn’t wish to worry his mother. A little later in December 1940, close...