Dr Hilda Dale 1909 - 2009
Monday, 22 February 2010
Academics who, throughout an entire career in the same institution, prioritized the tasks of educating students face to face and helping colleagues shoulder administrative burdens on a regular day to day basis make notoriously difficult subjects for obituary writers. Dr Hilda Dale, who died on December 21st 2009 in her centenary year, is a case in point. Having retired as Senior Lecturer in 1974, after 34 years' service in the French Department, she escaped bondage to many of the current campus fetishes. As a result her CV provides no scope for reverential comment on the plethora of her publications, her dedication to winning five-figure research grants, the brilliant e-learning gimmick which she invented, or the showpiece administrative unit (complete with witty acronym) for which she carved out a place amongst all the others. In undertaking at various stages Assistant Wardenship of St. Andrew's Hall, Women's Wardenship of St. David's Hall, and Junior and Senior Stewardship of SCR, she appears to have been able to work with the structures in place. She expressly recognized, in some autobiographical jottings that she was persuaded to pen in her early nineties, the refresher value of ‘light' terms which she regarded herself as having had "some small part" in pioneering; yet she left her colleagues to do her regulation duties for her on only one obvious occasion, when she was nearing sixty and spent a Spring Term teaching in the French Department at Makerere University in Uganda.
She honoured her contractual obligation to engage in research and publish, but showed where she believed that a serving lecturer's prime duty lay by springing most conspicuously into print late on in retirement, in 1989 and again in 1999, with finely polished translations of a series of religious poems lengthily elaborated by the learned Marguerite de Navarre, a Renaissance royal whose piety had been much exercised by her entourage. Hilda's modesty in seeking to divert praise for these veritable feats of scholarship towards those on whom she had sounded out her solutions to problems posed by the complexity of her chosen texts invites a certain restraint in highlighting her personal qualities, just in case it were possible to cause embarrassment beyond the grave. It must be said, though, that the subject matter here is rich. Just how rich may be ascertained from scanning the number and variety of contributions that were collected into a printed Tribute presented to her on the occasion of her hundredth birthday last August. It is clear from the sheaf of testimonies that, whilst in post and during retirement, Hilda made a lot of time for others and their needs, and that she merited from an ex-tutee (of a different faith) the enviable compliment: "she embodied all that is best in Christianity."
Those whom she took into her home, garden, thoughts, and heart, join together at this culmination of her life to wish her that of which her favourite poetess wrote with hope and longing: "...parfait contentement / Et sûr repos."