Dr Diane Treacy-Cole
5 September 2006
Dr Diane Treacy-Cole of the Department of Archaeology, and formerly of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, died unexpectedly in July.
She was a Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology, a position taken after her early retirement from the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. Between 1992 and 2002 she had been Lecturer in New Testament and Early Christianity in that department, teaching in an area she was as passionately devoted to as to biblical archaeology.
Dr Treacy-Cole came to Bristol after teaching for six years in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, USA, having earlier completed her PhD at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. From 1987 onwards, she was regularly involved in archaeological excavations at Sepphoris, Israel. For many years she spent between four and six weeks each year in the field there, supervising digging and training volunteers as a senior staff member of the University of South Florida expedition. In this capacity she took undergraduate students from Bristol and other British universities to work with her as volunteers during their summer break, an experience of a lifetime never to be forgotten by the students concerned. From 1990 onwards she held the post of numismatist for this expedition; only recently she had again spent several weeks on an archaeological field trip to Israel. Her excellent knowledge of that country also led to her involvement with several other projects, in particular with the British Council Higher Education Link programme at An-Najah University in Nablus, on the occupied West Bank. Together with the Link coordinator for this project, Professor Christine Trevett from the University of Wales Cardiff, Diane worked on the development of a Women’s Studies degree course within the Department of Sociology at An-Najah and helped design a Women and Religion unit. In turn, Arab university staff came to Britain to build up their contacts and expertise. The two Link collaborators planned, when there was greater peace in the region, to write something about early Christian history, religion and religious archaeology in the West Bank.
At Bristol University Diane lectured in both the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and in the Department of Archaeology. Besides her foundational lectures in Biblical Studies and in Christian History and Theology, she developed new teaching units that were particularly attractive to students, for example ‘Christianity, Miracles and Magic’, ‘Archaeology and Jewish/Christian Texts’, ‘Health and Medicine in the Bible’ and ‘Patrons, Prophets and Prostitutes: Women in the Primitive Church’. She was an enthusiastic and inspiring lecturer, well remembered by all who heard her speak. Her lively and witty delivery, her critical engagement with her work, and her devotion to her students made her a very popular staff member who inspired a significant number of students to pursue biblical studies beyond their first degree. In 1996 she received the Faculty of Arts Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. This was a recognition that gave her much satisfaction. Many students sought her advice and wise counsel. They felt helped and supported by her attentive pastoral care, always given so generously and willingly. Both undergraduates and postgraduates have commented on her helpful, but always gentle guidance. The encouragement they received kept their work focused and on track, yet while firm it left plenty of room for developing their own way of thinking.
Colleagues in the Faculty of Arts will remember Diane from her dedicated work on several faculty committees, especially the Quality Assurance in Teaching Team and the Conference Fund Committee. Among the numerous responsibilities she held during her ten years in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, those of Admissions Tutor, Study Abroad/International Students’ Tutor and Validation Officer made especially important contributions. So did her work on the Steering Committee for the Centre for Comparative Studies in Religion and Gender. She also taught several units for the MA in Religion and Gender.
Diane was an active member of the Bristol Theological Society and was elected its president during 1998-99. A long-standing member of several international scholarly associations, she was particularly interested in the work of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion, whose joint annual meetings she attended whenever possible. It is a great loss that she could not complete the major research project she had been working on for several years, a new book on Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. She had planned this as a major reappraisal of Eddy’s life and work that would include the insights of contemporary gender studies.
Outside the University she was for many years a Council Member of Claremont Fan Court School in Esher, Surrey, known for its historic landscape. Between 2002 and 2004 she was Chair of the Governing Council and Foundation Director. She took a particular interest in the garden heritage of Claremont on which she became an expert.
Diane Treacy-Cole showed a superb professionalism in everything she did. Her detailed knowledge of the Bible and the formative years of Christianity, her interest in women and religion, in gender and archaeology, and in a variety of other topics, including the joys of gardening, won her many admirers; her personal warmth and welcome gave her a wide circle of friends. In many respects she was also a very private person. One colleague has described her as someone with a great sense of justice where seriousness and spirituality sat alongside what was sometimes a wicked sense of humour. Another spoke of her as someone who combined humanity, scholarship and wise counsel in equal measure.
On a personal note, I remember Diane’s special presence and friendship over many years of working together. What lively discussions we shared and enjoyed on so many occasions! And an unforgettable study tour through Israel where she proved a superb guide around the ancient archaeological sites, especially Sepphoris. I am grateful for the strong support and excellent advice she gave me on numerous occasions when I chaired the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. At other times, she very generously stood in for me at short notice, speaking at an international conference and a local gathering on my behalf.
Diane Treacy-Cole was a gifted university teacher who cared deeply for her students. She knew many people inside and outside the University, and her teaching influence reached far beyond university circles in England and the USA. Her life touched many other lives, and those who knew her will always cherish many precious memories and recall her life with gratitude and celebration.