Jerzy ‘Jez’ Grzeda, 1965-2007

"I refuse to put my life on hold while I wait for somebody else ‘to make me whole’."

That quote, from an article written by Jez in 2000 about his high seas sailing adventures [linked below], is typical of the dynamo who served as KMi Business Manager from the opening of KMi in 1995 until his retirement five years later.

Jez pretty much embodied the spirit of KMi: young, dynamic, lateral-thinking, fearless. I met Jez for the first time at his job interview for KMi (despite his having worked behind the scenes for us on our earliest financial plans!): his charisma, charm, and intelligence blew away the competition, and we hired him with the same confidence he inspired in us. Oh, did someone say he was in a wheelchair? I barely noticed… talk about ‘presence’ or ‘X-factor’: Jez had it in spades. He powered our earliest interactions with Apple, Sun, IBM, and helped us bob and weave through an entreprise-wide administrative infrastructure that had to accommodate to The Guy Who Wouldn’t Take No For An Answer.

Jez recognized in 1994 that the future would depend to a large extent on new Internet and learning technologies, and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to do the very first financial plans that would prove to "the powers that be" that KMi could work, even when it was still just a wild fantasy. The very plans that Jez helped to create did in fact become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and made Jez the obvious choice to fill the new role of KMi Business Manager. In that role, he helped us rise to our prominent position on the UK, European and World stages as a significant force in the emerging world of, well, Knowledge Media– including being the lead player in the legal battle that established KMi as a world-wide registered trademark. He helped us experiment with first-stage spinoff companies, and advised us on how to ride the waves of boom and bust. He balanced our books, kept us from worrying when finances were in doubt, and always had an eye out for the next opportunity, be it UK academic research funding or international corporate sponsorship. And no matter what, he approached things were vigour, enthusiasm, a broad smile, and a firm handshake. He led us into meetings with legal and financial advisors, University Pro-Vice-Chancellors, government ministers, and coporate moguls: best of all, he knew his stuff!

Aside from his tireless efforts, he was a joy to be with: great jokes, great personal warmth. He and I used to compare notes about our respective New York Jewish and Polish Catholic upbringings, and the remarkable shared legacy of family laughter, tears, rows, political debate, neuroticism, and (yes) great Borscht! For various reasons I can barely remember, we also shared a love of sailing and boxing, and a voyeuristic fascination with the career trajectory of Arnold Schwarzenneger – go figure!

Jez was the first ‘virtual performer’ on stage in the Java implementation of KMi Stadium that we showed off to Sun Microsystems in 1995, and gained a fair degree of fame as a result of his sailing adventures aboard the tall ship the STS Lord Nelson. An avid sailor and scuba diver, he was determined to have a minimum of two high-adrenaline adventures per year. Through some of the publicity surrounding his adventures, he met and later married Haley Baxter shortly after departing KMi, and after several years in Milton Keynes the couple eventually set up home in Lincolnshire. Jez had been forced out of his career by the creeping Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that hit him as a rugby-and-basketball-playing athlete at the London School of Economics at age 23. In the final stage of MS he succumbed to recurrent pneumonia, and died peacefully in his sleep on the morning of 23rd May 2007, surrounded by his family.

Sailing with severe MS? As Jez wrote in Pathways Issue 4, in November 2000: "There is no reason to deny yourself a romantic, swashbuckling adventure on the high seas: you just need to find the right ship!"

Tributes to add below can be emailed directly to kmi [at] open [dot] ac [dot] uk

I remember doing the group photo when he was with us. I was arranging the chairs. He said "don’t worry about me – I’ll bring my own".


I am so very sad. Jez was charismatic, incredibly intelligent, good looking, energetic, strong and overwhelmingly positive! His entrepreneuriral spirit shone and when Liz Halls mentioned ot me that he’d make a great person to put the business in the plan for KMI I didn’t hesitrate. His MBA stood him in good stead then and later too. You just never noticed the wheel chair……

He was just great when he took on the role of creating an enterprise unit for the OU. He had a strategic vision and the ability to put things together aand make them happen on the ground. In his own way, without being pushy, he was a leader, who could deal with anyone at any level with sensitivity and humour too. He never stood for any nonsense. His courage was legendary, and adventure drove him when he went sailing or indeed diving, with legs strapped together. He and Hayley created a great team, Some people make the world a better place just by being in it and Jez was one of those, in spades

Kitty Chisholm

Jez embodied the pioneering spirit that made KMi such a great place to be: he just lived out the ethos of "getting on with doing the impossible" with a greater verve than any of us will manage, I suspect. An eye-opener for me to work with such a guy, and to see what he did in his summer hols! Thanks Jez for the smile, he jokes, and for taking me to the rugby at Northampton 🙂

Simon Buckingham Shum

Jez was so unique it is very hard to capture what it was like to be or
work with him in a few words. He extremely warm and kind – he never ever refused any request no matter how small or large or how tight the deadline. Yet he had a core of steel which had driven him to very high levels of sport in both rugby and basketball and enabled him to brush aside any difficulties associated with his illness.

He also had many other qualities, too long to list here, which made him both instantly likeable and a great long-term friend. I can remember several occasions after meetings when OU colleagues who had never met Jez before would come up and pay /me/ some compliment as if I was somehow responsible for Jez’s abilities to impress and inspire. I will miss him.

John D

What a handsome, witty and wonderful man – snatched all too early from life.

Linda Price

Jez was the first person I met when I set foot in KMi for my PhD scholarship interview: that was the best introduction I could have ever had to the lab. In a few minutes Jez made me feel the energy, the enthusiasm for research and the pioneering spirit that was driving the place and its people, and very soon I knew that I wanted to be part of that.

Jez became a good friend of mine and I got to know and admire his courage, vitality, intelligence, humor and determination to live life to the full. Jez was a Gentleman with a big heart in search of a happiness beyond the success of his work and the joys of sailing or scubadiving. I believe he found that when he met Hayley: they married shortly afterwards and they were one of the happiest couples I have ever known.

Jez loved life but knew he didn’t have much time to live it. He knew what was important and did not waste time with what was not. Towards the end he could hardly speak, but still managed to joke and laugh. First from his wheelchair and then from his bed he taught me the most important lesson: that happiness does not come from having what you want (whealth, success or even health) but from committing your life to what and whom you love.

Clara Mancini

I was very sad to read your piece about Jerzy. I was quite involved with you guys in the early days of KMi and Jerzy’s personality reflected the buzz and energy that was around in those days. For an admin/finance guy, he was really plugged into the stuff that was going on (early experiments with synchronous voice conferencing, the Virtual Summer School, streaming the first TTAA conference online with video and audio from 5 locations simultaneously!) and from my perspective, made a major contribution to everything that was happening in KMi.

Joel Greenberg

I have many great memories of Jez and am so sorry that he has gone from our lives. I will limit this to a few comments that reinforce what everyone has already said so movingly.

Jez’s experience in KMi made him very aware of the need for the University to have policies and an office to deal with issues of intellectual property and its exploitation for the benefit of all. In his characteristic way he decided to do something about it. When I became PVC for research I wanted to set up an office for IP development and exploitation and I started negotiations with the University Secretary Fraser Woodburn and the then Director of Development Kitty Chisholm. Jez, on his own initiative put together a proposal for us that formed the blueprint for our first office. We established an office along the lines he suggested and it has developed into an important part of our research environment. We unanimously and happily appointed Jez as our first Director against strong external and internal opposition. He did a great job in getting us moving – very ably assisted by his PA and friend Anita Dobson. Like everyone else, I was struck by his energy, his mental strength that grew as his physical strength deserted him, his charm and his sparkling sense of humour.

He led an active and energetic life both professionally and socially and we’d have fun in the Research Office finding out on a Monday morning all the things he’d done at the weekend – including sailing. He was a tremendous inspiration to us all but especially I think to other people with disabilities. We were all delighted when he married Hayley and several of us had some great evenings at Jez and Hayley’s parties at their house in Milton Keynes before they moved to Lincolnshire.

Anna and I will miss him.

Alan Bassindale

Despite the fact that we all knew about Jez’ deteriorating condition, it is so difficult and so sad to think he is gone. As everybody else has already pointed out, his enthusiasm and positive attitude were just amazing and truly embodied the spirit of a young and ‘revolutionary’ unit, such as KMi. I remember working a lot with him in 1999 when we were drafting the initial framework for Intellectual Property Management in KMi. This turned out to be so influential that eventually led to Jez leaving KMi and setting up the OU Intellectual Property Management Office, another example of KMi pioneering new initiatives, which would then impact on the University as a whole. However I must say that the sentence “I remember working a lot with him” does not actually reflect any concrete memory content! Indeed I have no idea when the work was actually carried out. As far as I can remember our meetings primarily focused on making jokes about the Sicilian Mafia and speculating about the specific techniques its members would adopt to make IP exploitation work…

This was really what Jez was about: being great fun, having a great attitude, but at the same time being able to produce high-impact work.

We will miss him big time.

Enrico Motta

To find words to encapsulate Jez and what he achieved through life for me is very hard. He worked tirelessly on the development of the new office then named ‘Intellectual Property Management Office’. He had such strength of character and such a witty, cheeky charm, the brightest smile and he was determined no matter what to never give way to his illness. To have worked with Jez was an honour.


I last met Jez with his wife Haley in Waitrose days before they were moving to their new home in Lincolnshire. He was happy and relaxed and typically faced his uncertain future with optimism and grit.

As a fellow disabled staff member I could always rely on Jez to break from his busy schedule to support our work as a member of the Disability Advisory Team to develop the University’s HR policies and services to ensure disabled staff received fair and equal treatment. For example in 2002 he joined the Steering Group guiding the making of a new staff development video resource “Who Are You?”. Aside from importantly influencing the approach of this programme Jez made an inspirational, personal appearance which was undoubtedly to make an impact upon the several thousand staff who were eventually shown the video.

I will like other colleagues greatly miss Jez. I believe his powerful presence and example will live on as proof positive that disabled people can bring their skills and rich experience to the work place. What better change ambassador could we have found than Jez?

Derek Child

I am so sorry for Jez, a truly remarkable human being and definitely the best academic administrator I have ever met. Well, maybe because he wasn’t an academic administrator, right? He was a quarterback with a great vision and an even bigger heart. It’s impossible to think to those years without seeing him right in the middle of the picture. A true force of nature.

Marco Ramoni

To my friend, family member, mentor, and pain in the you know what!

I started working with Jez as his Personal Carer in April 2003. At the time i had just finished my training with Thames Valley Police, and after a painful four months of deciding this career was not for me, i moved back home to my parents in Milton Keynes.

I had always enjoyed caring, as i had worked in a nursing home for a couple of years whilst still at school, so when i came across an advertisement for a position in Milton keynes, i thought it was a great opportunity. Little did i know what i was letting myself in for. I arrived at Hayley and Jez’ home on March 5th for my interview, and was greeted with what i would soon realise would be the everyday chaos i would later endure. There was dust all over the floor where they were having work done on the front door, cats (whom i grew to love) walking across my lap, snagging my nice new trousers i had brought for the occasion. The phone must have rang half a dozen times (i was only there twenty minutes) and if that wasn’t bad enough, i ended up walking outside wet, because Jez had this uncontrollable urge to sit directly in front of me with a bottle of juice in his hand, which he just had to throw about a bit. God must have known we were all destined to become good friends, because no one should have to put up with the abuse i received.

I worked with Hayley and Jez for a year and a half, but it only felt like work for the first couple of weeks. They both became my family. The things that went on behind that door were scary, hilarious, dangerous, and sometimes even pointless. But we had fun anyway. (Hayley that’s my story and i am sticking to it)

I have never worked with anyone since that convinces me it is ok to get the cocktail shaker out at half past ten in the morning and down three vodka’s straight.

Jez taught me that being sucessfull isn’t about having to have a career that sounds good, or pays the best, but to have a career that gives you back the things you need to enjoy your free time. Love, friendship, honesty, and plenty of fond memories that i will cherish forever.

I may have only known you four years Jez, but i will carry you with me for the rest of my life. You pushed me forward, helped me achieve, and moulded me in to the kind of person i wanted to be. If i am half the person you were, then that’s just fine with me!

Love always Bud. Rest peacefully.
Love to you too H.
XXX Donna.

I remember Jez with great fondness. He was a great pleasure to work with especially in the early days of the establishment of KMi. He was always inspiring, energetic, knowledgeable and good fun.

Geoff Peters

One particularly hot summer (1993?), while I was still a student and before I joined the OU, I temped for the university, supporting two or three administrators one of whom was a young man named Jerzy Grzeda (whose full name I still can’t pronounce). It is testament to Jez’s personality that nearly fifteen years later I remember nothing about the work I did that summer, or of the other two people I was working for, but I do remember the many and varied conversations I had with Jez fondly, covering anything from Polish food to (wheelchair) ski-ing, scuba diving, and our career aspirations. He was inspiring, fun and always smiling, not to mention witty, intelligent and charming.

I last saw Jez in 1999 here in Washington DC, a few months after I left the university and moved across the ocean. His infectious can-do attitude helped persuade me that I could indeed do anything, including moving 3,000 miles in search of a more exciting life. He was the first person to visit from England after I moved, and he tired me out touring the National Mall and the Monuments and the museums. The Americans with Disabilities Act made the US an easy place for Jez to visit, and when I said goodbye to him as he hopped in to a cab by the White House and flashed that huge grin of his, I was sure I’d see him again.

When he returned, as a newly wed, it was September 11, the city was a difficult place to be, and sadly I didn’t get to meet up with him or the new wife who had made him so happy.

Jez, you continue to be an inspiration to me. I will always remember your wit, determination and sense of adventure. RIP

Sophie Bethune

We are very touched by these tributes.
He was indeed a great personality to us all.
Your words bring to life how people other than his family regarded him.
We intend to keep this record and we will teach his Nephews, Theo and Max in New Zealand of a very worthwhile life.

He is kept in our hearts.
From his family in New Zealand.
Jan, Jenny, Theo and Max.

I have been a close friend of the family of Jez’s wife’s Hayley for 35 years and first met Jez when he and Hayley came back to Lincolnshire to live.

There is so much I could say, but others have said it beautifully. All I will say is what I have always said of him (long before he left us) that Jez is the most noble person I have ever met and that it was truly a privilege to know him and to be in his company. He burnt with a flame of love and life and to know that he now walks strong and free in joy, as he truly did inwardly all his life, is the greatest comfort.

God bless him and his dear wife, Hayley, their families and all their friends.

Caroline Ogden

I have been Jerzy’s wife for the past six years so I am not going to express surprise at the fantastic tributes written here; I know what a unique and glorious inspiration he was to me and it I am so glad that he touched others in the same way. It is a great comfort to see all his amazing acheivements and what others have been able to accomplish with his encouragement and support. Without his tireless example I would not have returned to studying myself and I will continue on the path he encouraged me to follow. I have been with Jerzy from his time with IPMO at the OU, but it was always his days at KMi which he remembered with such fondness. If anyone asked him what his job had been Jerzy would talk about KMi immediately, the ‘golden times’ where he met so many people he connected with. I have very fond memories of parties and subsequent friendships that I hope will continue. Those of you who didn’t meet me I still feel like I did! Jez talked about you all and held you all in high esteem.

To remember all he achieved in his career is an incredibly humbling experience, especially when you consider that he was also compassionate, thoughtful and had a wicked sense of humour.He was fairly easy on the eye as well. All in all he was a bit of a catch and I consider myself very lucky that he loved me and chose to spend what would turn out to be the final years of his life with me.

I thank you all for your happy memories of Jez and allowing us to share them in this way. It is a great comfort to me and I know it has touched all of his family and friends.

Hayley Baxter

I just heard the news about Jez. We attended LBS together and although I hadn’t seen him since graduating in 1992 I have always had very fond memories of him. Lovely, helpful guy. Terrible waste. My deepest sympathy to his family and friends.

Stuart King
London Business School Class of 1992

Please send additional tributes to kmi [at] open [dot] ac [dot] uk and they will be appended as quickly as possible.

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