Paul Heacock – an obituary

by Cambridge Dictionaries
Paul HeacockIt is with extreme sadness that we announce the death of Paul Heacock, Publishing Manager of ELT Dictionaries and Grammar and occasional contributor to this blog. Paul died on October 17, 2015, from pneumonia related to ongoing treatment for cancer. He was 59.

Paul was hired as a contractor by the Press in 1992 to work on the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, and became a full-time staff member in 1994. Working first under Sidney Landau, and then leading the division, first alongside Liz Walter and then as sole director for Dictionaries, Paul expanded Cambridge’s range of dictionaries and grammar resources for learners of English. An “early adopter” of technology before there was such a term, Paul drove the digital management of dictionary assets, the development of the Press’s extensive corpus holdings, the development of English Profile, and the integration of corpus research into Cambridge ELT (English Language Teaching) products.

Paul produced the first CD-ROM published by the ELT division, for the Cambridge Dictionary of American English. He was instrumental in forging the partnership with IDM, our technology partner in CDO, in the development of Cambridge Dictionaries Online and did his utmost to ensure its success as the number-one dictionary site for learners across the world. Through licensing partnerships he published some of the earliest mobile apps to come from the Press. Somehow, in all of this, he managed to find the time to write a number of books, including Which Word When? and The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words. And, of course, to play on the Cambridge University Press softball team, which won the league title in 2004.

Beyond the Press, Paul’s influence was also substantial, through his involvement with InterFuture, an organization that supports scholars in intercultural research projects, first as a scholar (which in his 20s brought him to England and Ghana) and then in numerous roles within the organization. One of his colleagues there commented, “Usually, when someone is that smart and insightful, they aren’t also so goofy and hilarious. When someone is that influential, they aren’t also so warm. Paul was all those things.” In his obituary for the New York Times, his family wrote of his deep love of music: “Paul shared much of himself with colleagues, family, and friends, but he especially shared his exceptional passion for and knowledge of music. From his early brush with Lennie Tristano to his continued curiosity about disparate, evolving genres, he was an extraordinarily deep and attentive listener who encouraged those around him to listen in the same ways.”

Paul accomplished all this with a matchless combination of grace under pressure, creativity, diplomacy, abiding optimism, and indeed playfulness. Tributes to Paul pouring in from current and former colleagues consistently mention his humor, humility, and intelligence. Cancer diminished Paul’s body, but never his spirit: to the end, he bore his symptoms with remarkable patience and stoicism. His acute intelligence and graciousness were equally undimmed; he had a gift both for putting people at their ease and always finding the humor in a situation, and the Heacock laugh was famous, cutting through a quiet office like the crack of a whip. He made many friends at Cambridge and in the wider publishing world and his passing has been, and will continue to be, felt acutely around the world.

7 thoughts on “Paul Heacock – an obituary

  1. I want to express my deepest condolences for Mr Heacock,s family and friends. It seems that he has great contributions to what has been my primary source for continuously improving my English. May God let him rest in peace.

  2. Ralph Daay

    I’d also like to express my condolences and extend my wishes of comfort to Mr Heacock’s family and friends. He sounds like he made an great contribution in his lifetime and by the sounds of it, a wonderful impact on the people who were fortunate enough to have them in their lives. He’s never gone, not through his work or the memories he leaves us.

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