Dr. Margaret Locherbie-Cameron
Dr Margaret Locherbie-Cameron, for many years a member of the English Department of Bangor University, died in St David’s Hospice, Llandudno, on 6 November 2010.
She was born in London (in March 1942) and brought up in Winchester, but a first degree from Edinburgh University strengthened her sense of being Scots as well as English. After research on Old English prose at London University, she became in 1966 an assistant lecturer in English at Bangor, and a tutor in one of the women’s halls of residence.
British universities were entering on a period of great change. In 1966, undergraduates were legally minors, and were taught what the head of department thought they needed to know. Bangor had two lecturers teaching Old English. Most students disliked it, but the head of department thought that learning what they didn’t like improved their character. All that changed under the pressure of social trends and government demands for more graduates, accompanied by incessant annual reductions in the “unit of resource”. Tutorials, the three-term year, the final examination, and many other things disappeared, and courses had to be marketed competitively. In many universities, Old English vanished as if it had never been. Every year, however, Margaret, soon Bangor’s only teacher of Old English, persuaded a substantial number of undergraduates that they wanted to take it and come back for more.
She could do that partly because students who had taken her courses told enquirers that they had enjoyed them. That chicken-and-egg situation was sustained by Margaret’s mastery of her material, imaginative teaching, impeccable manners, and liking for students, and the fact that she had no illusions about them. Those qualities made her outstanding as a hall of residence tutor, member of the department’s “pastoral team”, university student counsellor, and eventually Senior Counsellor. They also made her a respected teacher. One of her former doctoral students tells of going into a seminar he was teaching alternately with her after he had broken one leg, which was encased in a dramatic plaster cast. Every eye focussed on it. He said, “I was late with some work for Dr Locherbie-Cameron.” They knew it couldn’t be true, but they felt it ought to be. All the written work for the rest of that course came in on time.
Since 1966, an enormous amount of bureaucracy has been imposed on universities, and departments can no longer be run off the back of a professorial envelope. Margaret played her part in coping with this, even doing a stint as head of department. She retired in 2004, a little early, so that the department’s budget would balance.
In retirement, Margaret was able to enjoy the company of her many friends and expand her work for Riding for the Disabled and the Church in Wales, but in 2009 she was diagnosed with cancer. The disease took a brutal physical toll, but left her mentally unaltered. Her last words to me, the day before she died, pulled my leg about our next meeting in heaven.
P. J. C. Field
Publication date: 19 September 2011