I met John in 2014 when he joined the Department of Management Science at Lancaster University. Back then, I was in my second year of PhD, and as a teaching assistant, I helped deliver workshops for some modules. We met at the departmental Christmas party, and John asked me whether I was the very same Ivan Svetunkov who was supposed to support him in the workshops. I indeed was. He then asked how to correctly pronounce my name, something that not many people do, and from the very beginning of our acquaintance, he started using the correct stress and pronunciation. This is how I met John.
We then met in January in his office (together with other PhD students and a colleague from the department), where John explained how he wanted to teach the module. I was surprised to see how thoroughly he prepared for the module, and how important it was for him to see that everyone understands what we have agreed about 100%. He was very thorough in explaining things and made sure that everyone was on the same page. At the same time, he welcomed suggestions from everyone in the room and was ready to do things differently if that was appropriate. He was very flexible but thorough.
Being both of us members of the Centre for Marketing Analytics and Forecasting (CMAF), we have chatted occasionally, but never for longer periods of time. This was because I was still a PhD student and had my own priorities back then. My more direct work with him started when I graduated and joined the CMAF as a postdoc – John has become the director of the Centre and my line manager, so we started working on different activities together. He became my mentor, showing how things could be done and teaching me how important it was to be precise in different activities. This was the time when I discovered new traits of John. For example, in the middle of a meeting, John could pick a phrase that I said and then start explaining how it was originally created, what it meant back in the 19th century and what it means now. He had all different types of stories about the English language, literature, art, academic life and his personal experience. Because of that, meetings with John could last for a few hours, but I never minded – they always were interesting and productive.
Furthermore, during that period, John and I started working on several papers, and I discovered new sides of his character. He was open-minded and never dismissive of new ideas, even if they contradicted his original scientific view. In addition, while I was the primary author writing the papers, John read them thoroughly many more times than any other person in the world (including me). I would make changes to a paper, send it to him, then we would have a meeting, where John would give me the printed version full of comments and different corrections (including the grammatical ones). I would take them to amend the paper and send the new version to him, and the story would then repeat again and again until we both were satisfied with the paper. The thoroughness of reading from John was unique. I have not seen anything like that with any other person before. He even picked small details in the references, something I would not even bother checking. For example, he pointed out that Keith Ord has the first name “John” and thus should be referred to as “J. Keith Ord” – I completely missed this when reading Keith’s papers. And this was also the time when I found out that John’s second name was “Edward”, which he used consistently, but only in scientific publications as “John E. Boylan”.
The very same John’s thoroughness also pronounced itself when we needed to prepare responses to the reviewers – John would read the comments over and over again, trying to understand how a reviewer thinks, and what they really mean. Then we would have a meeting, and he would say that we addressed one part of this and that comment, but there is another side to it, and the reviewer probably looks at the problem from this and that angle, so we need to address that part in the paper as well. I’ve learned a lot about how to write papers and how to revise them from the work with John.
Moreover, during my postdoc, John and I delivered a few forecasting courses to companies. That was the first experience for me, I had never taught complicated topics to people who did not even know the basics of statistics before. And obviously, I learned a lot from John, who did this professionally – he knew what problems practitioners had, how to potentially solve them and how to explain all that in practitioners’ language. In addition, he had a good British sense of humour and could always light up a lecture, when he saw that students were getting tired.
But that’s not all. In Spring 2017, I applied for a position of a lecturer of Marketing Analytics at Lancaster University and got an offer to start work in September 2017. That was the year when I got stuck in Russia because of the UK visa issues. In parallel, in August 2017, John became Head of the Department, and when he realised that I could not come back to the UK, he provided me with all support he could, postponing my teaching and then communicating with the Vice-Chancellor of the university to help move my case forward. In the end, I returned to the UK with the old postdoc visa, and the new one was prepared in the UK with financial support from the university (which was not a standard practice back then). This happened with the support from John, Robert Fildes and Nikos Kourentzes. And this was the first, but not the last time John helped someone solve a problem at the university level. In fact, he was very supportive of the department as a whole and knew how to help, when people came to him with their problems.
Another John’s trait showed itself, when he was working on the book with Aris Syntetos: he has decided to write the book in LaTeX, which he did not know before, so he learned it in the process, finding solutions to LaTeX problems that I did not even think of. Furthermore, around that time, he learned how to use R just to understand basic syntax and teach Forecasting with it. Although he never became an advanced R user, he could read and understand basic commands in R. This showed me that although John was already an esteemed professor, he was always eager to learn more.
Finally, when it came to solving departmental problems, John did that minimising all possible conflicts. I do not know anyone else, who would be as careful, polite and caring as John was. And he always tried to make sure that all the problems were resolved without misunderstandings and that all sides were satisfied as much as possible.
John always treated me as an equal, and as a result, we did many things together. We organised the International Symposium on Forecasting in 2022 together, with him doing the admin part of things and me sorting out the programme. We pushed the CMAF forward, with him taking care of managerial and political aspects of the Centre and me dealing with marketing and promotions. We taught together, we did consultancy together, we wrote papers together, and we started different projects together. I think we were a good team that could do lots of things together… In the end, he became a friend of mine who would support me when needed and, in turn, could count on my support. John was exceptional in many aspects, and I could expand this post further with many examples from my work and other interactions with him.
John Boylan passed away after a few months of illness on 7th July 2023. He was diagnosed with blood cancer and unfortunately could not beat it, although we all hoped that he would. I really miss him, and I know that my life will never be the same without him. May he rest in peace.