Mary Southcott 1921-2008
7 March 2008
Emeritus Professor Peter Haggett remembers Mary Southcott, a 'warm, motherly, understanding' former member of the Department of Geography's secretarial team.
Appointed by Professor RF Peel to the then Department of Geography in 1971, she joined Betty Collins and Margaret Reynolds to make up its hard-pressed secretarial team. She worked there for the next 17 years until her retirement in 1987. Together the three of them served the Department for a combined total of well over 80 years, seeing through a series of office revolutions from Remington uprights and Pitman shorthand, through IBM ‘golf balls’, to the word-processing revolution.
Mary McCallum Fyfe was born in Scotland in 1921, the youngest daughter of a village postmaster. Meeting her husband-to-be, Melvyn, in World War II in London, Mary moved after marriage back to his home area near Bristol. While Mary readily settled down in Nailsea to raise a family of one girl and four boys, she never lost either her Scottish accent or her love of Scotland. The Calcutta Cup match, with husband and sons supporting England, always tugged at her loyalties.
Mary’s sense of fun and laughter was never far below the surface and we all enjoyed her stories of the latest exploits of her (then) teenage sons or her demented dogs (some of whom became familiar Departmental visitors). She was a warm, motherly, understanding figure to whom both staff and students readily related. But a Scottish education had served her well: she set meticulously high standards, and inevitably corrected our wayward spelling and grammar, even if it meant re-typing lengthy references. She was widely read and, with Margaret Reynolds, also provided constant recommendations on lighter reading, both of them checking first – like film censors – that the novels were sufficiently ‘proper’ for innocent senior faculty to read. With Professor Peel’s retirement she took over occasionally as Head of Department’s Secretary to work in turn for Professor Chisholm, Professor Simmons, Professor Thornes and Dr Morgan.
On her retirement from the University at age 65, Mary moved to the BRI for several years where the consultants astutely ignored her age until some mirthless administrator blew her cover. Widowed after 60 years of marriage, Mary had a stroke in 2006 and moved to Laurel Court in Nailsea. Despite her steadily declining health, she remained a lively and much-loved figure there, taking part in the choir and appearing as ‘Miss December’ in the home’s very proper but glamorous Calendar.
Much of a university department’s image depends on its secretaries. They provide the first point of contact both ‘inside’ (from Senate House queries to straying students from other Departments) and ‘outside’ (from anxious parents to foreign visitors). We have been in the past, and remain today, extraordinarily fortunate in those who run the School’s office, none more so than in Mary Southcott whose passing we mourn and whose infectious chuckle we remember. We send our deepest sympathy to her children and grandchildren and thank them for sharing her with us for so many years.