President in Focus: Tony Lees interviews President Mike Roper

PAST President Tony Lees interviewed President Mike Roper during the lunchtime meeting on 18th October. The interview was wide ranging covering topics from Mike’s childhood, his professional life leading to being an IT Director for the Civil Aviation Authority to the present day.
Mike Roper was born in 1950 in Colchester, Essex. His home for the first 10 years of his life was basically a brick box with a roof subdivided in to two bedrooms, a kitchen and somewhere with a coal fire where the family could sit. There was no bathroom, no toilet, no running hot water, one coal fire and no main drains,
The highlight of the week was the Sunday bath when his father would drag in the zinc bath, fill with hot water, Mike would get in first followed by his brother David, and then after the two boys had been shepherded off to bed, his Mum and Dad would then use the bath. The rest of the time they used to wash using the cold water from the kitchen sink.
Mike was the eldest of five boys. His brothers were David, Stephen, Mark and Trevor. His family moved when he was 10 to 3 bedroom house. It was an interesting arrangement, as Mike was the eldest he had his own bedroom, the box room, and the other four brothers slept in the one bedroom with beds touching each other. The house had a flush toilet, a first for the family and hot running water. The toilet was in a shed outside, but they had a chain they could pull.
Whilst at primary school at Halstead, not far from his home in Pebmarsh, Mike was selected to sing in the church choir, but however if you speak to his wife, she will tell you that he is tone deaf and cannot sing a note correctly. At 12 Mike started at Hedingham Secondary. In the village, there were two buses, one to Halstead school and one to the school at Hedingham. Mike’s mother had heard rumours that the school at Halstead was not so good as Hedingham school, and so on his first day at the new school she deliberately put Mike on the bus to Hedingham.
All the new entrants were herded into the school hall, names called out and the children taken with their teacher to the classrooms. At the end of this process however, Mike was left sitting on the floor on his own as his name had not been called out, it was not on the list. He was, however allowed to stay, and eventually took his ‘O’ levels there.
Mike wanted to be a draughtsman, and to do that he enrolled at Colchester Technical College to study Engineering Drawing, but there were not enough students, so the course was cancelled.
He decided therefore to get a job, and at the local job centre, he was sat down and asked what he was good at, technical drawing, physics, chemistry – ‘Chemistry we’ve got a job, how do you fancy becoming a textile chemist? It’s got day release, so you can qualify as a textile chemist whilst earning a wage. So off he traipsed to Gainsborough Cornard and Braintree Technical College to learn all about textile chemistry.
Whilst he was there computers started to emerge. Mike obtained his qualification as a textile chemist in 1972, and at that time Gainsborough Cornard decided to computerise their business and bought a Honeywell Mainframe computer for £250,000 but they realised that they had no one to run it. They thus initiated an aptitude test for all staff in the company. Mike got top marks, and so was offered a job.
After a while he was asked if he was interested in becoming a software programmer, which he did developing payroll, sales and stock control systems working with a team of other programmers, being creative and building something that was then seen in use.
In 1962 Mike met and married his first wife Bernadette, and moved to Ilford. Mike and Bernadette had a son and daughter, Mark and Louise, parents to his six grandchildren. In London he worked for a company that made industrial valves with a head office in Fleet Street. As projects finished, he moved on to work for British Home Stores, Rank Xerox, RCA records, and Fiat until in 1989 he joined the Civil Aviation Authority.
Until then Mike had worked with main frame computers which were becoming ‘old hat’ but PC’s had started to make in roads, and so he put himself forward at the CAA to manage a new department to develop systems for desk top computers which was in its infancy then. Ultimately, Mike became IT Director, and helped split the Air Traffic Control part of the company from Regulatory arm which was where he stayed.
By this time Mike’s first marriage had failed, and although he was living in London, he decided that he would like to live on the coast, and ended up in Seaford. Interestingly, when he told his mother that she would not know where it was, he was told “Yes I do, your cousin Derek lives there”!.
Mike was IT Director at Gatwick for 15 years, a great job but exceeding stressful, and when in 2010 and he was 60 he was offered his pension and to the opportunity to retire. Whilst at Gatwick he met his second wife Michelle. At Gatwick he was in a team under the Director responsible for IT, HR and Internal Services. Michelle was the HR Director.
After 5 minutes of their first meeting Michelle and Mike were at loggerheads. They had weekly arguments, he wanted to get rid of someone and she would say ‘Where’s the first warning, the second warning, the written warning, the letter, so there were many long conversations, but it started a long friendship as they both respected each other’s abilities.
Sadly, whilst at Gatwick in 2008, Mike lost his brother David. He had a slow speed motorbikes accident whilst doing moto cross, got back on and then fell off and then went into a coma. Mike believes that he had a blood clot and it was nothing to do with riding the motorbike. Michelle was instrumental in helping the family through this difficult time, not just for Mike, but also David’s wife and four children.
Mike has lost count of the number of nieces and nephews that he has, all four of his brothers have lots of children. The family is close and they all have at least one get together each year, just after Christmas.
Mike has many hobbies in retirement, his first was to renovate his house which took 2½ years. Mike has many outdoor interests, one of his uncles taught him how to fish, his Dad taught him how to shoot pheasant and pigeons for lunch. He does a lot of walking, bird watching and fishing. Mike is a member of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, a member of Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Angling Trust.
His biggest interest is however his grandchildren.

posted: Wednesday, 18 October 2017

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