Obituary: Winnie Davin

Winifred Kathleen Gonley, writer and editor: born Otautau, New Zealand 27 July 1909; married 1939 Dan Davin (died 1990; three daughters); died Oxford 26 March 1995.

Winnie Davin was for many years a distinguished editor at Oxford University Press; the editor and literary executor for Joyce Cary; a writer of great promise; and the affectionate centre of a huge circle of friends and family that she created in Oxford with her husband, the writer and publisher Dan Davin.

She was born Winifred Kathleen Gonley, of Irish immigrant stock, in Otautau, a small town in the New Zealand province of Southland, where her father, formerly a merchant seaman and boxer, kept a village store. Her grandmother on her mother's side, Ellen Silke, whose toughness and family example were a great influence on Winnie as a girl, had come to New Zealand from Co Galway as a solo migrant at the age of 18 in 1864.

Winnie was educated at St Dominic's Catholic School in Dunedin, where she acquired her skill in Latin and French, and went from there to Otago University in 1927 to study languages and literature. Her education was interrupted by family illness, but she completed her MA in 1932. Her ambition, stimulated by a passionate interest in Katherine Mansfield, was to be a writer, an ambition fostered at university where she won various literary prizes. Early poems published in the Otago University Review show originality and economy of expression.

Her first career was as a schoolteacher during the Depression. Throughout this time she forged a deep personal relationship with Dan Davin, another Southlander of Irish extraction, who had come up to Otago in 1931. She recognised the promise of this then shy freshman, and throughout their sometimes turbulent love affair helped to shape his abilities, which were great. He took up a Rhodes Scholarship at Balliol in 1936, and she followed him to Europe a year later.

Her own hopes of being a writer were wrecked by the Second World War, which precipitated her decision with Dan to marry and start a family. He departed to fight with the New Zealand Division, and in his absence she embarked on a wartime career as solo mother, and social worker with the Bristol Settlement. After the war they moved into a house at 103 Southmoor Road in Oxford, where Dan had joined the University Press. Winnie liked to say that the 1 was Dan, the 0 herself, and the 3 were their three girls. For the next 49 years this house was a place of open invitation for succeeding generations of family and friends from all over the world.

Friends from Bohemian literary and broadcasting circles in London were drawn by the warmth of her personality (where there was fire as well as grace) and her intellectual power. Dylan Thomas's early morning bellows of hepatic despair could be dispelled by her oyster fritters, a Southland speciality he craved. Julian Maclaren-Ross she fed and nursed, as his ego and health required. John Davenport, an occasionally irascible visitor, she kept in his place. Men as different as the poets Itzik Manger and Louis MacNeice, the producer Reggie Smith, and the brilliant linguist Paddy Costello, all sought her company and conversation.

And two generations of her children's friends, many themselves now prominent in different areas of intellectual life, and of New Zealand writers and academics too numerous to count, knew they could depend on her hospitality: a fact attested to by Dan in dedicating his volume of memoirs, Closing Times (1975), "to W.K.D. without whom there would have been neither friends nor book".

It was, however, with the novelist Joyce Cary that Winnie Davin formed the closest and most important relationship; a deep friendship of mutual understanding. After the tragedy of his final, slow illness (he died in 1957) she was his literary executor for 30 years, edited and saw through the press his last novel and numerous other manuscripts, and was instrumental in ensuring that his papers, through the generosity of an American friend and bibliophile, went to the Bodleian Library.

Winnie embarked on another career in the mid-Fifties, when she joined OUP and became an editor of the Oxford Junior Encyclopaedia, work that occupied her professional energy for much of the next 16 years. Throughout this time she still entertained visitors from all over the world, and maintained a close and affectionate relationship with her own expanding family. After Dan's retirement in 1978 she nursed him selflessly through his long and painful last illness. Her devotion to him never faltered.

Winnie Davin's generosity and intelligence were probably only matched by her toughness. There was not an ounce of self-pity in her, and she surmounted the loss of friends and the health difficulties of her own final years with serenity. To within a week of her last, brief illness she was hard at work commenting on the manuscript of a biography of her husband which OUP is to publish in 1996, and she celebrated its completion with the author, and her family, at a dinner party at 103 just four days before she died. Her love of language, poetry, conversation and literary gossip were alive to the end.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones