31 January 2009: A tribute to Maureen Reid - former Departmental Secretary
Maureen Reid was Secretary (nowadays Departmental Administrator) of the Art History Department from its foundation in 1967 until retiring in 1995. In creating the friendly ambience for which the department remains famous within the university and beyond, her role was equally important as that of the founding professors, Joseph Rykwert and Michael Podro.
Her father, M.R.Hull, Director of Colchester’s Castle Museum from the 1920s till the late 1950s, was an internationally renowned archaeologist. Her grandfather, Rev J.E.Hull, was a distinguished arachnologist. Her mother, Elizabeth, had been a schoolteacher. Like her older sister, Maureen attended Colchester County High, winning a place to read Geography at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1949, when it was extremely hard for girls to get in, but she was already completing The Times crossword, as she did until her death. This was a feat beyond the ability of any of her academic colleagues. Unfortunately she was permanently sent down after one year for breaking the punitive rules of the time: she was caught climbing into college after hours, got impaled on the spikes and had a scar to prove it.
Moving to London in 1952, she became secretary to successive Directors of the Wallace Collection, the world famous collection of paintings as well as of furniture and the decorative arts, which she particularly enjoyed. It was entirely appropriate that she passed The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals every day en route to her office. In 1958 she married Peter Reid, a school friend from Colchester, who survives her. They returned to Colchester in 1965 and a couple of years later she applied for the post of Secretary in Art History. She recalled Professor Rykwert asking her to meet him for interview at North Station where he would be found sporting a red carnation. He recalls that she was simply the brightest candidate.
Her office was the hub of departmental life. Regular visitors came from other departments, there were also artists, writers and other dignatories from Colchester and beyond. She was delighted when Sir Ernst Gombrich, the great art historian, on a visit to receive an honorary doctorate, admired the artfully juxtaposed postcards on her pinning board. ‘These are very carefully arranged,’ he remarked, ‘and not altogether risible.’ Maureen infused these gatherings with her keen sense of the ridiculous and infectious chuckle. The department was, and still is, full of laughter. Her nicknames for members of staff were drawn from Winnie the Pooh. She was Christopher Robin, of course; we, Pooh, Wol, Tigger et.al. were ‘his’ pets.
At her instigation the department took lunch collectively in the Top Bar alongside many colleagues from other departments and the Library, thereby creating a strong sense of collegiality. After retirement she would be found there most Thursday lunchtimes. Twice a year she organized memorable departmental parties. She was highly attentive to students.
She was a highly adept and diplomatic administrator, never taking sides in departmental politics even during the most turbulent times in the early years of the university. She saw it as her job to facilitate the business of the department and the university to which she displayed great loyalty. She was also a stickler for correct English, frowning particularly upon sentences beginning ‘Firstly …’ or ‘Most importantly …’
‘Maureen was a departmental secretary like no other,’ observed Baroness O’Neill, President of the British Academy and a former professor in the Philosophy Department. Perhaps an understatement.