Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Obituary: Dame Janet Vaughan

MAY I add a few words of my own about the generous and high-spirited principal of Somerville who so greatly influenced the lives of so many undergraduates, writes Shirley Williams.

Janet Vaughan, as Evelyn Irons wrote, worked on plutonium. I once asked her why she undertook research on this highly dangerous substance, knowing the risks as she did. She replied, 'What could be better than for someone in her seventies to do this work; I haven't long to live anyway.'

My second story is about an encounter with her after I had been offered a place at Somerville. I suspected that there might have been some family influence, as my mother had been an undergraduate there. I said as much to Janet Vaughan, who pointed to the place beside her where she was sitting cross-legged on the floor, inviting me to sit there. 'I am outraged by what you say] What the hell makes you think I would be influenced by any family connection?' It was, of course, the perfect response.