I have worked on this for several hours, but it may never say exactly what I want, or properly express my sorrow, so here it is, for what it’s worth.
I first met David Lister properly at my first council meeting, in the attic at Mick Guy’s house. I’d seen him at conventions, most particularly during the AGMs, which he ensured were run to the letter of the constitution. David didn’t get really involved with the day to day issues of the society (indeed, he nodded off from time to time!) but whenever a legal issue cropped up, he turned his full attention to the matter in hand and gave invaluable advice.
For several years, I thought of him as the “legal advisor who didn’t fold very often”. The only time most people heard him speak was during AGMs when he would delight in “taking the chairmans position whilst he stands down to be re-elected”. Everything needed to be above board for David! It was only later I began to appreciate how much work he did as a researcher / historian/archivist.
David was what I think of as a “quintessential Englishman”, he personified a time seemingly now long gone when gentlemen were polite, reserved and impeccably dressed. As a former lawyer, he possessed a sharp intellect and the ability to weigh up different interests and arrive at a considered conclusion.
His natural reserve made it difficult to get to know him well, he took life seriously, it seemed. However, we shared several train journeys to and from conventions, spoke at council meetings and slowly, I began to discover the warm, friendly and considerate personality that lay behind the quiet exterior.
For several years we were both members of a small group known as “FOLD” who circulated a privately produced collection of origami material every two months. With other contributors including LaFosse, Lang, Sakoda, Temko and several others, I was in heaven every time the latest issue thudded through my letterbox. In it, David would knowledgeably expound on a particular subject, making for fascinating and authoritative reading. David, Florence and myself met once at a BOS convention, it was a happy event.
Like any sensible historian, he would never make claims that he could not authenticate and was always eager to read responses to his propositions and amend them accordingly. (I have recently had permission from his family to extract and share the text from these pages via the BOS site.)
Like many people around the world, our relationship blossomed with the arrival of email. Despite professing few technical computer skills, David took to email like a duck to water and sent out countless long, considered and interesting emails to anyone who asked a simple question of him. He was seemingly unable to give concise answers to questions and I wonder where he found the time to do this. It seems David also kept a printed copy of every letter he sent or received, doubtless a habit he developed as a lawyer, so there are rich seams of origami gold that may yet emerge.
The BOS council nagged him relentlessly to produce some kind of book or booklet, but he felt that his knowledge was incomplete and that he lacked key information in order to write anything definitive.We never succeeded in this quest.
Some years ago I wrote a book called the “Origami Bible” and asked David if he could write an introductory chapter on the history of origami. I think I said something like “We have around 10,000 words to play with”. His reply was “Only 10,000? I can’t begin to give a meaningful summary in so few words.” Eventually, I persuaded him that the publishers would not devote more space to the chapter and frankly would rather have included a few more models and he relented. Having sent me the text, amendments came in regularly right up to the printing deadline. Sadly, this may be one of the few things that he wrote for a commercial printing (he also contributed a chapter to a book about Martin Gardner).
He willingly gave permission for me to start the “Lister List” and was amused that he shared the same name as a character from “Red Dwarf”. Since then, I have sought copies of anything he posted to build up what is an impressive archive. If you have material to share, please let me know.
David professed to be “not creative”, but when I once remarked that it was unusual to have folded for so long and never have created a single design, he indignantly informed me that he had created “a single design”. It was a model called “4 thirsty birds”, which he taught to me and I later included in my “Origami For Dummies”. This was, however, his only creation!
As he became older, David began to try and make plans for his remarkable library. I was lucky enough to browse through the origami section this extraordinary collection – never have I seen the like! When questioned about the size of it (imagine 3 large rooms with wall to wall book shelves!) he shrugged and said “As soon as I could reasonably afford it, I bought a book a day and all these years later, this is what you get!”
Along with others, I tried to conceive of a way in which his collection could be properly managed. Following a trip to Grimsby with Joan Sallas and Wayne Brown, we got as far as producing an electronic listing but sadly, the end came before any sensible plan had been agreed with David.
In truth, I suspect he was finding the idea of parting with his archives far harder than he could have imagined. I can only sympathise – it’s a situation we will all reach one day and there is no easy answer.
As well as losing a dear friend, the origami world has lost perhaps its leading historian and with him, untold amounts of knowledge and research. The work of cataloguing and assessing his collection and personal archives may well take years, but I hope at some point his studies will be available for the world to enjoy and for future historians to build upon.
I was talking recently with a friend about a small point of academic origami interest and we remarked that in normal circumstances, we would have asked David for advice, but what do we do without him to rely upon? No answer was forthcoming, but David was an eminently pragmatic man and would surely have told us to knuckle down and do the work ourselves.
I have set up a page where people can leave written tributes to the man. It can be found here http://www.britishorigami.info/academic/lister/tribute.php
You may wish to read a some rare information about himself that David shared in from an email exchange with Lisa Corfman.