'Museum stands as a lasting tribute to Bob'
PUBLISHED: 11:40 28 May 2016
The former honorary curator of Sidmouth Museum certainly made an impact on the town, say his family.
Dr Bob Symes’ death on Monday (May 23) at the age of 77 has already been recognised by the international geological community.
Growing up in Middlesex, he defied his father’s wish for him to work in a bank and followed his love of fossils to a job at the Natural History Museum. Bob started out at 18 as a lowly scientific assistant; by his retirement, aged 60, he was the keeper of the mineralogy department.
He loved the discipline, earning a PhD and even discovering an English mineral, which was named Symesite in recognition. He was awarded an OBE for services to geology.
With Carol, his wife of 50 years, Bob moved to Salcombe Road in 1999, and soon established himself in Sidmouth.
He curated the museum for 14 years, was the president of the town’s National Trust, helped bring famous names like Monica Grady to the science festival, and his voice can still be heard at the seafront interpretation centre.
“He was never, ever bored with his job at the Natural History Museum – he loved every minute of it,” said Carol. “Going to work was never a chore for him.”
The couple had two daughters, Victoria and Catherine.
Victoria said: “He was passionate about everything he did. He lived life to the full.”
Catherine added: “He will be greatly missed. He was a wonderful man.”
Bob would also volunteer his time to give talks, happy to be paid with no more than a cup of tea and some biscuits.
One of the attractions of the town for Bob was the Jurassic Coast. Another was his own history – his forebears left Broadclyst to find their fortune in London, so he did the reverse and joined the village history group.
Bob wrote some 12 books, from the scientific Minerals of Cornwall and Devon to Eyewitness guides for a younger audience. He had just finished a book on the history of Sidmouth Museum that his family hope can be published.
Aside from geology, he was a keen stamp collector and a supporter of Exeter City FC.
While at the museum, one of his first tasks was to modernise the ‘land and man’ room, which houses the natural history, archaeology and geology collections. More recently, modern display techniques have been used to illustrate Sidmouth’s red rocks. In 2015, at his retirement, the room was renamed after him in his honour.
Dr Nigel Hyman, the current curator, said Bob helped build up the museum into one of the town’s main visitor attractions.
He said: “His good-natured personality was such to attract not only many people to work with him but also to establish both loyalty and great affection. His experience and knowledge were very evident.
“Bob will be greatly missed and our sympathies extend to his wife, Carol and their family.”
The Sid Vale Association is the parent body of the museum. Its chairman, Alan Darrant, said: “Sidmouth has lost a major figure and a great character; he will be greatly missed.
“We were fortunate indeed that someone so eminently well qualified could devote 14 years to our museum.
“In that time, not only did he transform the museum itself, but also, thanks to his charisma, he built a very strong team around him, which means his influence will continue to be felt.
“We have lost the man himself, but Sidmouth Museum stands as a lasting tribute to Dr Bob Symes.”
Bob leaves Carol, Victoria and Catherine, and grandchildren Maisie, Olivia, Martha and Gabriel.
His funeral will be held at East Devon Crematorium in Whimple, at 11.30am, on Wednesday, June 8. Donations may be made to Pulmonary Fibrosis Trust through Potbury’s Funeral Service.