View all news

Mary Jeanette Mobbs, 1925-2012

Mary Mobbs

Mary Mobbs

3 July 2012

Remembering Mary Mobbs, former Administrative Assistant to the Registrar - and a gifted musician and artist - who died in February.

Mary Mobbs, née Randall, was a multi-talented musician and artist. She was born into a music-loving family in Birmingham. Her father, a keen amateur cellist, worked for Cadbury's at Bournville; her mother had several artists in her family. Mary entered the University of Birmingham Education Department in 1943 and qualified in 1945, having decided to specialise in music. She then entered the Music Department of the University, graduating with a BA in 1948. She obtained her LRAM Diploma in Piano Teaching in 1956.

Having taught music in various schools in the 1950s (including producing and directing a memorable Dido and Aeneas by Purcell), she came to the University of Bristol, initially working in the Physics Department making high-altitude balloons for Professor Cecil Powell’s cosmic ray research group (continuing work for which he had been awarded a Nobel Prize in 1950). She then moved to the Office of the Registrar, where she became Head of the Enquiry Office and, eventually, the Administrative Assistant to the Registrar,  until her early retirement in 1983.

Always passionate about nature, she supported numerous animal charities and enjoyed birdwatching by attending RSPB events and by keeping a detailed diary of what was happening in her garden.

Most of her spare time was taken up with her beloved music. She sang and acted for Bristol Opera; and she started the bassoon in her mid-thirties and was soon playing in University orchestras, at Bristol Music Club, and in private wind trios. She was also a member of a local piano group.

Together with her husband Kenneth, Senior Lecturer in Music, whom she married in 1979, she built up a nationally important collection of early keyboard instruments. On retirement from the University she embarked on a new career as a harpsichord soundboard painter. Within a year her work was exhibited at the International Early Keyboard Exhibition in Bruges. The number of commissions, from harpischord makers all over the country, meant that she rarely had a time in her so-called retirement when a harpischord was not waiting to be decorated. She painted the flowers and birds on the soundboards with considerable delicacy, following with great attention the styles of the Old Masters. In all, she decorated 26 soundboards and a lid between 1987 and 2003. She also contributed articles to Harpsichord and Fortepiano.

Sadly, this new career was cut short when Mary was diagnosed as suffering from Multi-System Dystrophy, a form of Parkinson's Disease. With music, she found it more and more difficult to handle the bassoon, but, undeterred, she started to learn the oboe instead. Unfortunately the nature of the illness soon prevented her from continuing.

After enduring several years of inactivity she died peacefully in her sleep. She is survived by her husband Kenneth, nephew Robert and three stepdaughters.