It is with great sadness that the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society announces the death of Mrs. Jean Humphreys, the doyenne of the Society and its President in 2009 – 10.
Jean has been an enthusiastic member of the Society ever since she came to Leicester in 1947 when her husband Arthur was appointed as the first Professor of English at the University of Leicester. They became great friends of the Vice – Chancellor Frederick Attenborough, who was the Society’s first President when it resumed activities after the second world war in 1945. Jean was very much part of the Attenborough family. One famous son Richard was also a President in 1999 and another David has been a life Vice President since 2010. Arthur himself became President of the Society in 1965.
Jean has been a remarkable supporter and benefactor of a number of cultural organisations in the University, the city and beyond. The University expanded hugely after she arrived, and she took it upon herself to welcome the wives of the new members of staff. She founded the University Women’s Club. She was also a founder member of the Haldane Society formed to promote links between the city and the University. She became a Life Member of Leicester Civic Society and Leicestershire Arts in Education. She was a member of the Friends of Leicester Philharmonic Choir, the Leicester Symphony Orchestra, the Bardi Orchestra, the London Philharmonia Orchestra, the Bach Choir, Tudor Choir, Recorded Music Society, the University Hospitals of Leicester, and Leicestershire Museums. More widely she became a Life Member of the National Trust for Scotland, The Woodland Trust, Arran Museum and Arran Drama Society. She also supported The National Trust, English Heritage and Welsh National Opera.
Jean was born at Drumadoon Farm in her ancestral territory on the Isle of Arran. Her paternal and maternal grandparents were island folk and her hard-working parents had great respect for education. The story of her early life was the subject of her Presidential Address (“An Odyssey: from Arran to Leicester”) to the Society in 2009 which was published in the Transactions and can be seen on the Society’s website. At great emotional and financial cost, her parents sent their three children for their secondary and tertiary education to the mainland. Jean trained as a teacher at the University of Glasgow, graduating with an MA in 1945 and a Teachers’ Diploma in 1946. She taught English at the newly opened Arran High School from 1946-47. She married Arthur Humphreys in August 1947 soon after he was appointed to the Chair of English at Leicester’s University College. Ten years later, in 1957, he became the Foundation Professor of English in the newly Chartered University of Leicester and also served as Dean of Arts and Public Orator. The burden on the small group who gave their full commitment to the cause of turning the University College into a University was immense and it was significant that, when that when Arthur gave a prize for distinction in the Department, he insisted that it should be in their joint names. Arthur was a prolific researcher and writer on English Literature which resulted in Visiting Fellowships in the UK and abroad (see A.H. Biography) and this brought literary scholars to Leicester, often staying in the Humphreys’ home. Thus, the literary sphere around the Humphreys included not only immediate colleagues who became well known, such as Monica Jones and Philip Larkin, but also visitors like Kingsley Amis, Malcom Bradbury, a former student of Arthur’s at Leicester, and E.M. Forster. Jean Humphreys has always maintained close contacts with such friends and acquaintances who hold her in high regard and a word from Jean has brought many back to the University or has provided a bridge to The Literary and Philosophical Society. Her long-standing and staunch support of the University and the City of Leicester earned her an Honorary Masters Degree of the University in 2001 and the University’s highest honour, a Distinguished Honorary Fellowship in 2013.
Jean had a lively interest in most things and was always a delight to talk to even when her hearing started to fail. After she became totally deaf, she continued to communicate with good humour in beautifully written letters. She will be sadly missed.
At the funeral, Professor gave the oration, which can be found here.