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Student, 70, graduates despite sight loss trauma

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

Paul Deal was half way 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.

Paul Deal has graduated from university at the age of 70 (University of Bristol/PA)
Paul Deal has graduated from university at the age of 70 (University of Bristol/PA)

But at 2am the next day, Mr Deal would be heading into theatre, where an eye surgeon sought to halt an infection that was rapidly travelling through his right eye.

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

“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?’,” he said.

Mr Deal 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.

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

Paul Deal in 1971 while working as a reporter for the Evening Echo in Basildon (Paul Deal/PA)
Paul Deal in 1971 while working as a reporter for the Evening Echo in Basildon (Paul Deal/PA)

Laser eye surgery on his left eye returned some of his sight.

Still unable to drive, Mr Deal would take two trains and a bus to get to the university in Bristol from his home near Bradford upon Avon, Wiltshire.

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 Mr Deal.

“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.

The Wills Memorial Building at the University of Bristol (Ben Birchall/PA)
After retirement Mr Deal enrolled on a University of Bristol history short course, which aimed to help mature students progress to a full degree (Ben Birchall/PA)

“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,” he said.

“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 – Mr Deal 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.

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