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Student, 70, graduates despite sight loss trauma

Paul Deal on the day of his graduation ceremony

Paul Deal in the early 80s when he was Editor of the Buckinghamshire Advertiser Series

Paul Deal in 1984 when he was editor of the Bedfordshire Times Series

Press release issued: 22 February 2024

A 70-year-old grandad who left school with four O-levels has graduated today from the University of Bristol, despite losing much of his eyesight during his degree.

Paul Deal was halfway through his master’s (MA) in history when his vision began to blur while he was walking the dog.

Thinking nothing of it, he considered ringing an optician for advice. But at 2am the next day, Paul would be heading into theatre, where an eye surgeon sought to halt an infection that was rapidly travelling through his right eye.

Paul spent 40 years as a journalist, but none of his deadlines had felt as urgent as this.

The father-of-three said: “It was a traumatic time. After another operation the next day I was told I might not get my sight back. I thought ‘what the hell am I going to do about my MA now?’”

Paul was left with around 20% vision in his right eye and not much more in his left. He deferred his History MA by a year as he made frequent visits to Bristol Eye Hospital and investigated assistive technology to aid reading, after struggling with a magnifying lens.

Paul returned to his studies, only to suffer a spate of nose bleeds so severe that he ended up in A&E three times.

Laser eye surgery on his left eye returned some of Paul’s sight. Still unable to drive, Paul would take two trains and a bus to get to University.

Despite this, he struggled on and finished his mammoth 15,000 word dissertation.

“I’d always loved the idea of going back to education,” said Paul, whose Linked In post when he started at the University went viral with 44,000 likes.

“Growing up in east London and Essex I never thought I’d go to university. Never. None of my family had gone and I was just completely focused on becoming a journalist.”

Today he graduated in front of his wife, Diana and youngest daughter, Rebecca.

Paul, who lives near Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, said: “It’s been a heck of a time and I’m very proud to be graduating. I’ve been looking forward to this day immensely.

“I wondered how I’d cope at university and it was hard at times. However, I learnt that, even at prestigious institutions like Bristol, you are made welcome by students and teachers, no matter if you are older. I also feel very positively towards the University for supporting me through the difficult times.

“I would love to think that someone who’s stopped working might see my story and consider becoming a student.

“I miss studying here and I made some good friends along the way.”

While studying for A-Levels – including one in history – Paul got a summer job as an editorial messenger boy on the Basildon-based Evening Echo. Spotting a big story that the newsroom had overlooked got him noticed by the editor, who offered him a position as their first trainee reporter.

During a successful career he reported briefly from Northern Ireland and edited newspapers including the Bath Evening Chronicle and the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph. He spent 15 years at the BBC, producing national news bulletins, and later worked as a communications officer for Wiltshire Police.

After retirement he enrolled on a University of Bristol history short course, which aimed to help mature students progress to a full degree.

Paul has a particular interest in the English Civil Wars, Irish history and Bristol’s role in the slave trade.

Dr Amy Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Modern British History and Paul’s personal tutor, said: “Working with students like Paul, who are engaged and eager to learn, is a joy.

“He not only took on the usual challenges that a History MA poses, but also a number of others that none of us could have expected. Well done to you Paul, you deserve every bit of this success!”

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