Obituary: Duncan Stewart

Click to follow
Duncan Stewart will be remembered with affection and admiration for the many roles he filled so well in the academic world.

He was born in New Zealand in 1930 into an academic family. During the Depression his father became a schoolteacher, and was appointed headmaster of a Presbyterian secondary school in a remote part of western New Zealand. From there Duncan was sent off to boarding school, and then attended Canterbury University College (as it then was) where he obtained first class honours first in French, and then a year later in Latin. He came to Queen's College, Oxford, in 1953 as a Rhodes Scholar, adding another First in Modern Languages two years later.

It was common practice in those days to appoint university lecturers very young, and for Oxford to retain its own graduates. Following this pattern, he was immediately appointed to Wadham College, where in 1957, as another single young male stranger in Britain, I first experienced Duncan Stewart's generous hospitality and cheerful company, hallmarks of his character.

Along with caring for generations of Wadham students, and pursuing his own research, as time passed he became increasingly involved in academic administration, not because of a desire for power, but rather because of a wish to ensure that things ran smoothly and effectively. He was elected by his colleagues to the General Board of the Faculties of the University of Oxford, which is responsible for the internal academic management of the university, in 1972, and for two years was its chairman. In 1979 he was elected Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, thus becoming the first male head of a former women's college.

Lady Margaret Hall was founded in 1878 as the first "academic hall" for women in Oxford. The battle for the acceptance of women into Oxford was fought long and hard, with the five women's colleges only being granted full collegiate status by the university in 1959; and Stewart became Principal just one year after the college voted to admit men as junior and senior members, and just five years after the first group of men's colleges (including Wadham) became coeducational.

Change in Oxford normally happens very slowly, and the rapid transition from single-sex to mixed colleges was not without controversy. It fell to Duncan Stewart to move Lady Margaret Hall through difficult times, there being less than unanimous support for many of the changes. The opportunities open to female academics, for example, were felt by some to be under threat, and as numbers of male fellows grew to be sufficient for a male majority on the governing body of the college it was seen as confirmation that such fears were justified. His ability to combine firmness of purpose with tact and sensitivity when dealing with individuals was regularly put to the test. He retired last year from the principalship after 16 years.

Alongside his college activities, Stewart continued to be involved in the administration of the university, serving on several central boards and councils. As chairman of the Libraries Board he participated in at least one of the many partially successful attempts to rationalise library arrangements, and his non-confrontational style was a great asset in meeting such challenges of change.

Hospitality at the lodgings at "LMH" followed the same hospitable pattern set in his youth; excellent food, generally prepared by his wife Valerie, was accompanied by wines selected with great skill by Duncan, one of his many pleasures. They planned to spend a good deal of retirement time in their French house, where Duncan hoped to read deeply in the French literature he so much admired and enjoyed. Unfortunately that time together has been denied them.

Clark Brundin

Duncan Montgomery Stewart, university administrator: born Christchurch, New Zealand 14 February 1930; Lecturer, Wadham College, Oxford 1955, Fellow 1956-79; Principal, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford 1979-95; married 1961 Valerie Boileau (one son, one daughter); died Oxford 22 May 1996.

Comments