58 Years Gardening at Wadham: Michael O'Day
Date Published: 05.05.2022
The college community gathered for a special lunch in honour of Michael’s long service and retirement.
Michael O’Day was 15 when he started. He left school on a Friday and come Monday he was a Wadham gardener. That first day he weeded in the vine house, had a cuppa, then set out on the mowers.
That first day was 58 years ago.
Recently, the college community gathered for a special lunch in honour of Michael’s long service and retirement. The Warden, Domestic Bursar, and Chaplain spoke of his unassuming friendliness and renowned storytelling. Emeritus Fellow, Ray Ockenden, noted that Michael's career outdid even the long service of the Emeriti!
“The job is what you make it. Just get to know people.”
“The job is what you make it,” Michael shared a couple days prior, “Just get to know people.” Hearing colleagues talk about Michael, it’s clear he lived this philosophy.
Michael has seen decades of change in the garden. He can show you where there used to be pig sties, or a swing, or a tennis court. He can show you where donkeys crashed into an orchestra (there have been some interesting parties in his time).
When he started, there were no women studying at the college. And students weren’t laying on the grass with laptops. As a leaving gift, Michael received a key to the private gardens; he’ll be able to see more change to come.
“If you told me at 15 that all this would happen, I’d never have believed it.”
Michael has befriended some of the most credentialed and revered figures in the college’s recent past, dug up coins that pre-date the foundation stones, and rescued paintings from destruction. As he recalls these events, he sometimes drops in that he’s “ordinary – just a gardener.” Before a crowd of a hundred or more colleagues, friends, and family, he says “if you told me at 15 that all this would happen, I’d never have believed it.”
For all his humility, Michael has left an extraordinary impact on Wadham. From everyone he’s struck up a conversation with, to the gardens he’s tended and cared for – his presence will be felt for another 58 years and beyond.
Warden Robert Hannigan said:
"The gardens are close to the hearts of everyone at Wadham – alumni, students and staff. They need constant care and cultivation and we are incredibly lucky to have had Michael’s dedication and expertise for so long.
But Michael is not only an expert on the gardens, he has been a great friend and colleague and a much valued member of the community. We hope he will visit often and enjoy the gardens in his retirement.”