Lady Maita Frank, 1919-2009
20 April 2009
Robert Chambers, Emeritus Professor of Physics, pays tribute to a 'lively, delightful' contributor to University and city life over more than 60 years.
Her father was a professor in St Petersburg, and her two elder sisters were born there, but Maita herself was born in 1918, just after the Russian revolution, at her mother's family home in Finland, and so was legally a Finnish citizen. Charles met her in December 1939, while helping to raise funds for relief in Finland, then being invaded by Russia. She had come to England in 1938 from Czechoslovakia, where she had grown up, to learn English as an au pair with Walter Adams (later Director of the London School of Economics) and his family in Cambridge. She married Charles in 1940.
In Bristol, she met Mary Horder, the sister-in-law of Nevill Mott, and helped her to set up a very successful toy-making activity in Hotwells. Mary designed the toys, and Maita then made them: she taught herself how to use a lathe and other tools, and became a very competent woodworker. Their toys proved very attractive, and they were once asked to become regular suppliers to Heals in London, but they had to explain that large-scale production was beyond their ambitions. Their toy-making activity came to an end in 1952, when Mary married Jacques Friedel and went to live in Paris.
Maita had by then become very conscious of the lonely plight of the wives of foreign research students or post-docs who came to work in Bristol, and in 1952 she set up the Newcomers Club, as a place where they could meet, learn more fluent English, and enjoy some social life. The club met this need very effectively, until it was eventually absorbed into the University Women's Club in 1973.
Marriage to Charles brought many opportunities for travel to foreign parts, and she returned from each of these with fascinating stories of her adventures – and Charles's – in remote parts of the world. At home, she turned her considerable energies to fostering the social life of the Physics Department, in particular by supporting the annual Christmas ‘cabaret’, and to developing the extensive garden behind Orchard Cottage, on the edge of the Blaise Castle estate, which she and Charles had acquired in about 1950. Under her care, this became a haven of peace, carpeted in spring with snowdrops and crocuses.
Within the wider community, she and Charles became enthusiastic members of both the Friends of the RWA (Royal West of England Academy) and the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery, and had many adventures and mishaps on their outings. A few years after Charles died, Maita's household was joined by a delightful cat that wandered in and adopted her, and whose company she much enjoyed. In her declining years, she remained remarkably fit, though her memory became increasingly patchy, and remarkably shrewd and perceptive in her judgments. She was great company, and we shall not see her like again.
Robert Chambers, Emeritus Professor of Physics