Obituary: Mary Lobel
Thursday 16 December 1993
MARY LOBEL, the local historian, who died at the age of 93, was one of the last of a redoubtable generation of women.
Mary Rogers - Roddy as she was later known - was born into a Bristol family, well enough off, suffragists to a man, in 1900. One sister was an actress who became a Poor Clare nun partly because of how actresses were treated.
Educated at Clifton Girls High School, Rogers did some vacation work helping W. E. Crum with his Coptic Dictionary. At Crum's house she caught the eye of the visiting Edgar Lobel, the papyrologist and future editor of Greek lyric poetry, even in youth exigeant as a companion. His friends in the much larger world that he knew in the First World War were surprised to have a schoolgirl preferred to them. Undergraduate years at St Hugh's College, Oxford, were largely devoted to cricket; but her true vocation appeared in her B Litt thesis, on the town of Bury, which resulted in one of the first scholarly books on local history.
A short period of teaching in Norwich was followed by some 50 years in Oxford in a marriage to Lobel, which, unconventional by present-day standards, seemed to suit the partners well enough. He usually dined in his college, Queen's, to save 'my lamb', as he touchingly called her, from having to prepare a proper meal. They were invariably together for walks, bicycle rides, and holidays in English or Welsh counties. A medieval house in Merton Street stood still for the same period, visited occasionally by the Gilbert Murrays, the Michael Sadleirs, and various historians.
For Roddy Lobel made her own life in the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire and was accepted also into Somerville College, as a librarian, work cheerfully contributed for, at most, a pittance - and in fact she often made donations to permit the publication of what she had worked on. A comment on this, as on any physical discomfort, would be brusquely put aside ('What do you mean?'), while any suggestion of shirking a duty or fudging a piece of work would earn a glacial reception. Even fellow editors (who usually loved her) would sometimes have wished to escape from her lucid explanations of what was expected from them.
She was a lively and amusing companion into advanced old age, a mark of her selflessness, and bore Lobel's final physical decline well. She rallied under widowhood following his death in 1982, making new friends at Halifax House, the university's club for visiting scholars.
Her main work in later life was the three volumes of the Atlas of Historic Towns, produced (with Col WH Johns's mapping techniques that she so much admired) to a standard other countries find it hard to match. The international side of this brought travel back into her life. London, the flower of cities all, and certainly of this series, appeared shortly before her 90th birthday and her well-earned OBE. Then she too had to know decline: a singular sweetness of character remained when all else had gone. She is (one used to think) what England was.
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