Bristol University master’s student, 70, graduates despite losing majority of eyesight

Paul Deal hopes to inspire other retirees to follow their academic dreams in later life

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

Paul Deal, who spent 40 years as a journalist, had “always loved the idea of going back to education” and decided to follow this idea through by enrolling in a master’s (MA) in History at the university.

However, Paul’s History MA has been far from a smooth journey as halfway through his degree his vision began to blur during a dog walk.

He considered ringing an optician for advice, not knowing that he would be heading into emergency surgery at 2am the next day due to an infection rapidly taking over his right eye.

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 is a former journalist, who spent 15 years at the BBC

Paul, originally from Wiltshire, was left with around 20% vision in his right eye and not much more in his left, causing him to defer his masters by a year due to frequent trips to Bristol Eye Hospital.

Laser eye surgery returned some of Paul’s sight; however, he remained unable to drive, forcing him to take two trains and a bus to get to university.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Paul battled on and managed to complete his mammoth 15,000-word dissertation.

Last Thursday (22nd February), he graduated from Bristol University in front of his wife, Diana, and youngest daughter, Rebecca.

Discussing his experience at Bristol, Paul 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.”

Dr Amy Edwards, a 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 none of us could have expected. Well done to you Paul, you deserve every bit of this success!”

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