I always feel awkward about my reactions when I find myself grieving for the death of someone I have never met (yes I cried at Di’s funeral, but why exactly is a complicated question) or even of someone I haven’t seen for decades and exchange at best a desultory Christmas card.
Yet I did feel sad today to learn the Sheila Browne, who was once Principal of my college had died at a ripe old age. I hadn’t seen her for many years although she did occasionally get in touch to tell me what she thought of what I had just written (often favourable, but always frank). But she was imprinted in my memory as the Principal of Newnham when I returned there as a fellow in 1984 and made one of those defining transitions into a new style of adulthood (and I don’t need any clever sod to tell me that my grieving is really for myself and my past..).
She also introduced me to some of the ambivalences of academic character from close up.