Sir Harry was born in Cambridgeshire to parents who had left Germany as refugees during the Second World War. The family then moved to Bolton when he was a small child and set up a balloon manufacturing and printing company and he came to Bolton School from 1950 to 1958. After developing a fascination with Chemistry, Physics and Maths at School, he went on to study Chemistry at the University of Sheffield, and then gained a PhD in molecular spectroscopy.
He went on to become a preeminent scientist who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996 for co-discovering the new carbon allotrope, Buckminsterfullerene, was knighted in the same year and was President of the Royal Society of Chemistry from 2002–2004.
He sadly died earlier this year, aged 76, and his full obituary in The Guardian can be read here.
School was exceptionally fortunate to have enjoyed several visits from Sir Harry over the years, as part of his educational outreach work. On one occasion (pictured above) he officially named the Boys’ Division Chemistry block “The Kroto Chemistry Building”.
Philip Britton, head of Bolton School boys’ division observes that “Harry was a wonderful and warm person, a great intellect and had a strong focus on inspiring young people. My memories of him will be of the passion with which he spoke of how his own education at Bolton School has shaped his life and how committed he was that this chance be available for others. He was a genuine case of real social mobility.
It is also hard to think we will not see him in the sports hall again, sitting among hundreds of primary school children, passing on his passion for Chemistry. I think it said a lot about him that he used his scientific fame to promote education, particularly using the internet to help educate those countries where formal education is hard to get.
That passion for the subject, intellect, sense of social responsibility and enthusiasm sum up a great character and a great life.
It may be some time before Bolton boasts another Nobel Prize winner – he has been an exceptional local figure.”
Sir Harry himself made the following observations during a brief interview with us in August 2014:
What are your memories of Bolton School?
“My first memories were in the junior school, quite a long time ago, but I do remember one teacher, Mrs Crook, who was quite strict. I also remember enjoying being in the junior school and that I was quite a good student – I don’t think I was exceptional but I worked hard. My best memory is when my father promised me an electric train, which he bought second hand, if I managed to be placed in the first three in the class. I must have told this to the teacher as I did come third – I think she may have pushed me up the rankings. I also remember standing under the clock when I was naughty, thinking, “Well, I don’t like this very much” deciding that I wasn’t going to be naughty anymore.
I remember the senior school better, being turned on to Science and particularly Art. Mr Higginson who was an Art teacher gave me extra lessons in lunchtimes. Later on, Harry Heaney who became a Professor at Loughborough University, recognised my interest in Chemistry, and gave us some extra Chemistry lessons and encouraged me to go to Sheffield University, which I did. And I also remember acting in the school play, Henry V, and teaching Ian McKellen how to act of course.”
Were there any particular moments at School that you remember really igniting your passion for Chemistry?
“Yes I think so, I did a spectroscopy experiment with a Bunsen burner flame, looking at this flame and looking at the spectrum of it that seemed to be exciting.
I was very encouraged to some extent to do more than was required. And that’s one thing I got from this school, not to put in the minimum requirements for a project, but to do the things that added extra value. I think that is a major lesson in life – not to do things just to satisfy the teacher or get a grade, but to satisfy yourself that you’ve done the best that you possibly can. “
What do you think about Bolton School’s efforts to re-establish open access through boosting its bursary funds?
“I am conscious that I was very fortunate to get a [free] place at Bolton School, and I’m also rather conscious that it’s more difficult for people who, today, are like I was. So I’m very keen to see possibilities for young people who probably have the potential that I had, to be able to go to the School. I think in today’s financial climate it’s important to recognise that Bolton School is making an effort to open up the possibility for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to be able get to the School so their potential can be realised. And I think that’s fantastic.”