Iris Walker RIP

The origami world has lost one of its genuine stars.  An ever-present at conventions until her health began to fail, I wonder how many people had their first “hello” from her when they went to their first convention? She actively sought people she didn’t know and did her best to make them feel welcome and introduce them to people they may not have known. Her innocent love of paper-folding was infectious and she was a surrogate Aunty for many of us.

I’ve known Iris since my first convention in 1984, when she introduced herself and took me on a guided tour of the convention, introducing me to all the celebrities!  She was a firm friend ever since and I saw her helping out in her own quiet way at every convention she attended. I once complained to her of a headache and she wheeled me into a darkened room and gave me a neck massage! The train she caught home invariably went through my home town of Sheffield, so we spent many hours together coming home after conventions and they were never dull.

In the early days of the society, as BOS member #83, she was editor of the very first proper BOS magazine and produced the next 45 issues until 1974. The newsletter was typed on stencils (personal computers were not yet invented!) and printed with a Gestetner machine, stapled together and sent out to members by Iris.

What many people probably do not know is that during the 60s, she played an important role in the development of folding and the BOS.  She was in regular contact with Neal Elias (her initials appear on diagrams he sent to the few other folders he knew) and developed a series of models that were ahead of their time in many ways. Subjects included a cannon, a helicopter, a flexagon, a sports car, a dog in a kennel, a ball within a ball, a blow-up 3D star and many others. She beat Fred Rohm to making the first 4-link chain from a single square. You can find many of her creations in the superb (and essential) DVD collection “The Origami World of Neal Elias” by Dave Venables and Marc Cooman

Yet she never promoted herself or her work and much of this has been buried in the BOS archives for a long time. She was President of the BOS from 1992 – 96 and was deeply honoured – she denied that she was “worthy”. She was later made a Vice President and also an Honorary Member.

Even in her 80’s she was still fiercely independent, walking a mile a day to keep fit. She travelled alone for many hundreds of miles to conventions, yet had time and energy for all when she arrived. I set her up with a computer and tried for many years to teach her how to access the internet, but like many of her generation, she never quite “got it”.

She lived less than a mile from an Aunt of mine and so I took the opportunity to visit her. Her small house in Hull was a treasure trove of origami history. She was always happy to sit and talk about the early days of folding and to discuss fine technical points and historical opinion. She lost her husband and had many other personal difficulties in her life, but her innate optimism kept her going, although her emotions were rarely hidden and she became misty-eyed at the drop of a hat. She was the special guest at my Wentworth meetings in 2011 and everyone was delighted to see her.

Iris had a stroke in 2015 and moved into a home, where her prognosis was uncertain. She had lost a large part of her memory although her general health was good, it was clear she could no longer live independently. She didn’t really recognise us when we visited her, but it clearly gave her pleasure and she proudly showed the BOS magazine to everyone when it arrived.

The Society arranged for her to attend the Bradford Convention in 2017 and the 50th celebration but it was clear she didn’t really understand the affection that was showered on her. The staff who cared for her were amazed at the reaction she caused and soon realised she was a very special person to many people.

Our world is much the poorer for her loss.

Some of her designs can be seen here