Bob Draper MBE: A Short Biography

Many of us will fondly remember Bob Draper as the figure that greeted us each time we visited the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, but which of Bob’s many endeavours saw him awarded the MBE for his services to BRLSI in 2005?

Bob Draper, one of the Institution’s most loved and valued volunteers, and the BRLSI House Manager for many years, died in May 2023. Bob became the face of Queen Square to our visitors and members, yet many of us remain unclear about the extent of Bob’s services to BRLSI, and how his involvement with the Institution came into being. It was for his immense dedication to the BRLSI that Bob, nominated by Nancy Catchpole MBE (herself Chairman of the Board from 2002 to 2006), was awarded the MBE for services to the Institution in the New Year’s Eve Honours list of 2005. What were the steps that took Bob to Buckingham Palace?

Bob, a Retired Experimental Officer from the Physics Department at Bath University, became heavily involved with the institution’s ‘re-birth’ in the 1990’s. Bob’s role with BRLSI was very much that of a proponent of ‘hands-on science’. He conceived a hands-on event for National Science Week, which later morphed into the award-winning ‘Bath Taps into Science’ an annual science fair for all the family held at the University and Green Park Station, attracting several thousand people during its two-day annual appearance. BRLSI is reviving Bath Taps for its bicentenary year.

Throughout his time with BRLSI, Bob held positions as Vice Chairman, Chairman of Trustees, and Chairman of the Management Committee, before transitioning into BRLSI’s long term and incredibly popular House Manager. Ever modest, Bob placed the success of the Institution entirely down to the hard work and commitment of the Institution’s numerous volunteers and made it one of his key objectives to make sure the volunteers not only felt valued, but fully understood they were the lifeblood of the Institution.

A key part of Bob’s mission was to foster relationships between BRLSI and other Literary and Scientific Institutions. In the early 90’s he visited the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution with Dr Peter Ford. This was very much a research trip to explore how a Literary and Scientific Institution might be run.

In 2004, Bob acted as the BRLSI delegate at the Mechanics Worldwide Conference in Melbourne, Australia.  Here gathered together were like-minded Institutions show-casing their diverse range of activities. Bob maintained these relationships and was also the person responsible for signing BRLSI up to the Association of Independent Libraries, to which we still hold membership today. And of course, Bob also made it his mission to foster relationships within BRLSI, and if you were a writer, you were soon introduced to another writer, and a trainee physicist or biologist might soon find themselves introduced to a lifelong one.

It is of no wonder then that on 10th December 2004, Bob received a letter from 10 Downing Street informing him that he had been nominated for an MBE.

‘The Prime Minister has asked me to inform you that he has it in mind, on the occasion of the forthcoming list of New Year’s Honours, to submit your name to the Queen with a recommendation that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to approve that you be appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)’

Bob arrived at Buckingham Palace to receive his MBE in the May of 2005 accompanied by BRLSI Membership Secretary and Administrator, Brenda Vickery-Finch, the then Office Manager Angela Rheinhardt, and his sister Ros.

In celebration, that same month, the BRLSI Management Committee voted unanimously to purchase a portrait of Bob by local artist, Dr Rex Valentine in recognition of Bob’s outstanding service to the institution. The painting remains on display in the ‘Draper Room’ on the first floor of the building to this day.

The MBE was not the only award Bob received during his time at BRLSI. In 2009 he received a long-time service award from the Mayor of Bath.  Bob was nominated for the award in recognition of his important role in the life of the School of Physics during his time at the University of Bath, his assistance to other schools while there, his involvement in all aspects of the arts within the university, and not neglecting to mention his work as trustee with BRLSI.

Now BRLSI would like to celebrate Bob once more. We are delighted to announce that:

The Murch Room, in which Rex Valentine’s painting of Bob has hung for many years, has been renamed the Draper Room

We will launch a young person’s writing competition called ‘Draper’s Papers’ during our bicentenary year of 2024

We will establish a student award as part of the revived Bath Taps into Science festival, taking place in October 2024

Lastly, we will uphold the lasting values Bob has instilled in the institution and work hard to keep BRLSI an inspiring, inclusive and enlightening place to be.