Obituary: Godfrey Bond
Thursday 13 February 1997
Son of an Irish civil servant, he went as a scholar to Trinity College Dublin from Campbell College and the Royal Belfast Academical Institute. At Trinity in 1949, most unusually, he sat two sets of final examinations at the same time, in Philosophy and in Classics, and took distinguished Firsts in both. He came to St John's, Oxford, to work on the papyrus fragments of Euripides' Hypsipyle, but was almost immediately elected to a Fellowship and Lectureship in Classics at Pembroke.
Pembroke was still an old-fashioned college; the tutor whom Bond replaced, Herbert Drake, had a better understanding of port than scholarship. Bond's energy, rigour and enthusiasm for his subject soon effected change. Among measures he devised to raise standards, some in concert with R.B. McCallum (shortly to become Master), were weekly invigilated translation tests that encouraged regular reading of texts. He discerningly scrutinised candidates passed on by colleges then attracting a stronger field, and soon made Pembroke a college to which schools were keen to send good classicists. Classics became one of the college's strong subjects, and it is a tribute to Bond's manifold skills as a tutor that two of the established classical chairs in Oxford are currently occupied by his pupils, to say nothing of several elsewhere. Pupils were exposed to razor-sharp argument, good sense and a suspicion of dogma.
Although a specialist in Greek tragedy and Greek elegiac poetry (which he drily warned his lecture audience was not a subject to be read in an armchair with feet on the mantelpiece), Bond was as stylish a composer of Latin as of Greek (a facility later manifest in his public orations) and gave stimulating tutorials on Latin as well as on Greek literature. Asking questions about literature was not then a common feature of "Mods" tutorials, but by the later 1950s he had his pupils writing numerous essays as well as composing proses and verses and trying to master textual criticism. He was predictably part of the 1960s movement that secured a place for the study of literature in "Greats". As its Chairman in 1973-76 he also steered the classics sub-faculty through the early problems generated by that revolution.
Godfrey Bond's contribution to Pembroke went far beyond Classics. He was Senior Tutor (1962-72), Vice-Gerent and from 1970 Senior Fellow, but made his mark above all as Dean, first in the 1950s and then from 1979 to his retirement in 1992. He found it easy to establish a rapport with the young, he administered regulations humanely, and he made himself widely known and liked amongst junior members through his decanal lunches, of which undergraduates casually intercepted in the quad and sundry malefactors were as regularly beneficiaries as the youthful great and good.
As a tutor too he was a great entertainer; when in 1959 he married Alison, daughter of Mr Justice T.C. Kingsmill Moore and herself a graduate of Trinity, they moved into Masefield House on Boars Hill and established a reputation for generous hospitality: many Pembrokians recall the populous lunches, buffet suppers and dinner parties given life by Godfrey and Alison and, later, their children Catherine, Elwyn and Kingsmill.
This side of his character reflected the care for and interest in individuals that made him so sympathetic a tutor and colleague. He would give unstintingly of his time listening to problems and offering advice, always ready to see others' points of view. Only very occasionally would he express himself forcefully concerning those whose standards and behaviour even his tolerance could not endure. More often a "humph!" would indicate that one had said something that merited scepticism or disapproval, or his own sardonic account of an incident would convey, with delicate humour, just what he thought.
Bond did not find the formal aspects of college and university life uncongenial, and his year as Senior Proctor (1964-65) led him into university administration: he served on the General Board from 1970 to 1976, and his impressive speech on retiring from the proctorship was a foretaste of the scores of Latin honorific speeches he composed as Public Orator, from his election in 1980 to his retirement in 1992. His care in gathering biographical data about the honorands, presented in elegant and often witty Latin, again reflected his generous use of his time and ensured that his tenure was a distinguished one.
His scholarship was also distinguished. In a generation whose masters set less store than now by sheer volume he deservedly established his reputation with an edition and commentary first of Euripides' Hypsipyle (1963) and then of his Mad Heracles (1981), a major and lasting scholarly contribution. For somebody so integrated into his college's life sabbatical leave passed in Oxford was too vulnerable, and he wisely spent some terms of leave in Princeton, Cambridge and Dublin (a city of which he was always fond and proud). The years serving as Dean and Public Orator contributed to deferment of his next project, a general study of Euripides.
Doubtless his time would have been differently used had he been elected to the Chair of Greek in Dublin or to his college's mastership, but he did not allow the disappointment he must have felt in not obtaining either office to diminish his zest or his attachment to Pembroke. He was stoical when Pembroke decided not to replace him in his tutorship and to cease to offer Classics. It is a great sadness that his illness should have prevented his continuing to serve scholarship and the academic community in his retirement as he would have wished.
Godfrey William Bond, Greek scholar and teacher: born Sydenham 24 July 1925; Fellow and Lecturer in Classics, Pembroke College, Oxford 1950-92; Public Orator, Oxford University 1980-92; married 1959 Alison Kingsmill Moore (one son, two daughters); died Headington, Oxfordshire 30 January 1997.
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