Obituary: Kate Bertram

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The Independent Culture
KATE BERTRAM was elected the second President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, in 1970. Her personal qualities and her experience made her an excellent choice for a new college in need of a period of consolidation. She was a Cambridge graduate and already had, as Kate Ricardo, a distinguished academic career in research, being an expert on East African and Palestinian fisheries.

She was born in 1912, the daughter of Sir Harry Ricardo, an engineer, and Beatrice Hale, a painter. She was educated at Hayes Court in Kent, and Newnham College, Cambridge. In 1939 she married Colin Bertram, of St John's College, and returned to Cambridge after the war, where she taught and examined for Newnham and Girton Colleges and had four sons.

This put her in the position of so many women in Cambridge in the late 1940s and 1950s. There was teaching to be done, on an hourly basis, but few fellowships and very few university posts. There were two women's and no mixed colleges. The predicament of women academics was taken up by a group of women who became the "Dining Group". Bertram was one of their number, and she played a significant role in the founding of New Hall in 1954 and in pleading the cause, in the university and beyond, of mature women, both teachers and students, whose careers had been interrupted by family responsibilities.

This led in 1965 to the establishment of Lucy Cavendish College for graduate students and later for undergraduate mature women. Kate Bertram was the first Tutor and Secretary to the Governing Body. The history of the college has been chronicled by Bertram herself in Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge: a history of the early years (1985). It is a strictly factual book, based on college documents. This is typical of Bertram, who thought that emotion was inappropriate in such an account, and disliked upsetting people. The early development of the college can in considerable part be related to her willingness to seek advice and to her patient negotiations with university authorities.

As President, she worked to create a corporate sense; college officers met regularly for coffee (whenever teaching and research commitments permitted) and Bertram invited visitors to talk in an informal way. One such was Joyce Grenfell, who became an honorary Fellow, and the college now has a valuable archive of her papers.

Kate Bertram also took a great interest in the graduate and undergraduate students of the college and they liked and respected her. She always appeared at the Senate House at General Admission to greet the new graduates. She had wisdom and a human understanding of mature students and their difficulties. This is not entirely surprising as she herself had a family of four active sons.

Her interest in the college property was considerable and extra buildings were acquired and the fundamentals of a development plan were put in place during her Presidency. She took a keen and active part in keeping the grounds looking attractive. She was responsible for enrolling temporary and economic assistant gardeners in the form of guinea-pigs, to keep the grass down and the daffodils preserved.

After Kate Bertram's retirement in 1979, she and Colin left Linton House, the scene of summer garden parties and the occasional demonstration of a steam punt by one of her sons. They went to live at Ricardo's, the house built by Kate's grandfather in Sussex and she revelled in the De Morgan tiles and other fine architectural details. She was an expert opponent on the croquet lawn, and took up bell ringing, which she greatly enjoyed. She and Colin travelled widely and visited many places, including the Galapagos Islands, which were of great interest to them as zoologists, and were able to invite friends and grandchildren to accompany them on these expeditions.

She suffered Alzheimer's during her last years, but was fortunate to be able to remain to the end at Ricardo's, with its wonderful views over the Sussex Downs.

Cicely Kate Ricardo, zoologist and university administrator: born London 8 July 1912; Tutor, Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge 1965-70, President 1970-79, Honorary Fellow 1982-99; married 1939 Colin Bertram (four sons); died Graffham, Sussex 6 July 1999.