National Best Friend Day 2019: Best Friends at Work

BOHS asked, Alvin Wooley and Andy Gillies, a few questions about how they met and what is their secret to maintaining a long-lasting friendship?

How did you guys meet?

It all started in 1977.  Alvin was appointed occupational hygienist at the TUC Institute of Occupational Health at the London School of Hygiene.  Soon after his arrival, he was press-ganged into lecturing on the MSc courses and Andy had the misfortune to be in his first group of students. The friendship was initially fuelled by sport.  Early combat took place on the squash court and Andy soon joined Alvin’s newly formed football team, where his subtle footballing skills complemented the more brusque approach of the rest of the team, mainly rugby players.

What’s it like working with your best friend on a project like this?

Simply brilliant.  It’s great having the opportunity of working with a good pal!

How would you describe each other?

Andy is very good at detail, very methodical, whereas Alvin is more spontaneous and, outwardly at least, more overtly passionate. Our thought processes run on different lines so that we are able to bounce and consolidate ideas from different standpoints. Of course, we have heated debate but we always find common ground and our friendship oils any troubled waters.

How did you find a balanced way of working?

We know each other really well and we share a ridiculous sense of humour (Alvin says that Andy’s jokes are worse than his).  Our differing skills and personalities seem to work well – we understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we harness them to our advantage.  It seems to work well in joint workshops; at a recent workshop on exposure controls at a BOHS conference, one delegate remarked that we were the ‘Laurel and Hardy’ of BOHS (I hope that’s a compliment !).

Whatever our differing views and sometimes passionate debates, we both know that friendship is such an important commodity in life.  Our friendship is paramount.  Andy’s Shakespearian quote means as much to me now as when he first uttered the words years ago:

‘Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.’