Monday, October 18, 2021
Latest News from Cambridge and England


Meet Cambridge University’s 99-year-old academic

Joyce Reynolds is a living timepiece.

At 99 years old, her life has encompassed some of the most se..

By admin , in Cambridge , at April 28, 2018

Joyce Reynolds is a living timepiece.

At 99 years old, her life has encompassed some of the most seismic changes in the history of the world.

The Second World War, the Cold War, decolonisation, globalisation, the sexual revolution, the birth of the Internet – to name but a few.

In the UK she has lived under four monarchs (albeit one brief king), 19 prime ministers and through huge social change.

An expert in epigraphy – the study of ancient inscriptions – she has been working at Cambridge University since the 1950s.

Still working, she is loved by her former students many of whom have developed impressive careers of their own.

Mary Beard – author, TV presenter, perhaps the country's best known classicist – has written of Joyce's "greatness".

Joyce Reynolds at her home in Cambridge (Image: Adrian Pope)

Joyce is one of six women whose long lives are chronicled by write Tessa Dunlop in a new book – The Century Girls.

Published this year, the centenary of women getting the vote, its charts the huge changes in the world seen through the women's eyes.

Born in December 1918, Joyce grew up in Highams Park and Southfields in London.

She won a scholarship to St Paul's School for Girls in 1932 and achieved a first class Classics degree from Oxford University.

“I couldnt make up my mind what subject to specialise in at the point at which you had to decide at school," she explained.

"Talking to the school mistresses who had been teaching me I came to the conclusion that if I couldnt choose between Literature, History and Language Id better do Classics, because Classics involved you doing all those three."

Read More

During the Second World War, Joyce worked as a civil servant in a department monitoring the distribution of goods around the country.

She had believed she would continue in the civil service, but failed the entrance exam, and returned to the Classics.

She got a research scholarship and went to Rome only to discover another researcher in France had beat her to writing about her chosen specialism.

“The head of the school at Rome said 'I need some help with the work Im doing and I think you can probably give me that help'," she said.

"This involved the epigrahy – that became the thing that I really was a specialist in."

Joyce appears in a new book by write Tessa Dunlop called The Century Girls (Image: Adrian Pope)

Eventually Joyce secured a position at the women-only Newnham College in Cambridge in 1952 and embarked on an impressive career.

Tessa Dunlop underlines the strength of her achievements: "I had heard of Joyce before we met, her reputation goes before her.

"She is revered, feared and adored by former students – most of whom are now emeritus professors.

"I was duly intimidated on first meeting but need not have been. Joyce does indeed have an sterling academic and teaching record.

"But with her intellectual acumen comes a deep kindness and a tremendous adventuring spirit."

Read More

It is clear Joyce, who never married, holds great affection for her past students, which is returned in kind, including by Mary Beard herself.

“I hope that they have happy lives, being happily successful, doing whatever they want to do," said Joyce.

“Mary particularly gives me a lot of help. At the moment my carer is sick so Mary brings over a meal for me every night.

"Some of them want to do things like Mary or are teachers and some of them marry and have families.

"Then they write and tell me every Christmas that little Mary is doing such and such and little John has been put up in his form. This sort of thing. Its fun to know."

Joyce explained that she tries to instil "straight thinking, hard thinking," in her students during their time at the university.

She says her career has helped her learn a lot about the way people work, learn and think.

"Everybody thinks a little bit differently about most things," Joyce explained. "But if you can sit down and talk amicably, then you may not agree with each other but you can understand up to a point at least why they think differently from you and whether you oughtn't to think harder about whether they might be right and you wrong."

Joyce turns 100 years old in December (Image: Adrian Pope)

Joyce's career took her round the world and she often the only woman working as an epigraphist on ancient sites in Libya, Syria, Romania, Turkey.

“I was enjoying their antiquities but also working with them, with the locals," she said. "Because even when your excavation was run by foreigners as it very commonly was the workmen are local.

“I learnt I think that the majority of people were amicable, liked being in company, were curious and interested in the differences of the things you wore, the things you ate, for instance.

“One was wise to avoid talking about religious views, that could run you into trouble.

“I spent an enormous amount of time in Libya and the major site on which I worked was Cyrene, which is a very beautiful site. I suppose I might say that was my favourite.

“I got to know a lot of the locals, including the women, who when I first went were secluded."

Read More

Many of the places Joyce has joined digs have since been ravaged by the horrors of modern conflict.

“Its very depressing," she said. "Its absolutely frightful. A lot of these places I have spent time in. Ive been to Syria several times.

"When I went it was rather pleasant. It was different from Europe, and there were things one didnt like but by and large people were very welcoming, very keen to talk to one insofar as one had a language one could share.

"And of course the antiquities were full of interest and often very beautiful."

Aspects of modern political development are also distasteful to Joyce. She is particularly dismissive of Britain's decision to leave the EU.

"I feel Brexit is a disaster. Removing yourself out of a group which was learning to live together in a positive and helpful way, whatever mistakes they made… Its nonsense, Its absolute nonsense.

"One of the great things was in my faculty, for instance, we have quite a number of lecturers who come from other European countries.

"Theyve been brought up in slightly different ways of learning about the Classics and this is informative, this encourages one to think in new ways, in fresh ways, in useful ways."

Joyce's work as a Classicist saw her travel the world (Image: Adrian Pope)

Joyce said she was never conscious of being held back by male prejudice during her career and felt largely supported by her peers.

“Up to a point it was harder to get a university lectureship for a woman than it was for a man," she said. "On the other hand the Classical faculty did do its best to ensure that the women got a fair deal."

She acknowledges that society's treatment of women has come a long way, but highlights lingering problems such as equal pay.

"Women are now much more free to operate in any way they wish," she added. "In their relations with one another and other people, and particularly with men.

"I wouldnt have ever thought of describing myself as a feminist. I believe in the equality of the sexes."

Joyce once crossed paths with one particularly pioneering woman, Britain's first female Primer Minister Margaret Thatcher.

"I think she was clever," she said. "I think her politics are definitely not mine. I would be much more open minded than a Conservative."

Read More

Today Joyce still writes from the desk in her Cambridge home and enjoys walks and visits from former students. She holds much affection for the city.

“Being still part of the university, being able to use all those lovely libraries and meeting people who are interested in similar things to me, thats an essential part of it," she explained.

“I used to spend quite a lot of weekends in Milton Park which I liked very much, with the nephew who used to look after me. We used to go quite regularly for a walk in the park."

In December, Joyce turns 100, an event she humbly describes as "interesting". She currently has no plans to mark it but suspects former pupils may be forming plans.

In September 2013, Newnham College hosted a special 'Joycefest' event to celebrate her life.

Read More

Joyce credits regular exercise and healthy eating as part of the secret to her longevity, but emphasises that her work still drives her.

"Im always looking forward to finishing that article and getting on to the next one," she said.

Joyce and Tessa Dunlop will be speaking at the Cambridge Union on Sunday, April 29, with an introduction to be given by Mary Beard.

Tessa said: "Not only has she a great knowledge of her subject but shes also time travelled across a British century.

"Born in 1918 when her own mother still wasnt permitted to vote she has witnessed unimaginable social change often pioneered by the very students she was mentoring.

"All of those Ive spoken to, including the flamboyant Professor Mary Beard, testify to her sage and remarkably contemporary advice and friendship.

"As a relatively modern woman I take great solace from her wise words and am inspired by the manner with which she embraces the challenges of extreme old age – an example of which is her performing at the Cambridge Union this Sunday aged 99."

Headlining at 100: Joyce Reynolds & Tessa Dunlop is at the Cambridge Union on Sunday, April 29 from 1pm. Visit the Cambridge Union website for more information.

Comments


Leave a Reply


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *