Obituary: Margaret Gibson

Margaret Harvey
Friday 12 August 1994 23:02

Margaret Templeton Gibson, historian: born Glasgow 25 January 1938; Lecturer in Medieval History, Liverpool University 1966-81, Reader 1981- 91, Honorary Senior Fellow 1991-94; died London 2 August 1994.

MARGARET GIBSON was one of the most single-minded and energetic practitioners in Medieval Studies, an inspiration in, and shaper of, her chosen field.

The cherished only child of David and Betty Gibson, he a Chemistry don in Glasgow, Margaret reached Oxford in 1959 to read for a second undergraduate degree in History, after an MA in English at St Andrews. We who were introduced to a shy newcomer, as one needing friends, looked back amazed years later, when she seemed to know everyone and specialised in helpful introductions. A DPhil on Lanfranc (later a book, Lanfranc of Bec, 1978) under Sir Richard Southern launched her into a life's work: investigation of the roots of medieval scholarship.

Oxford was followed in 1966 by Liverpool, where she stayed until retirement, as Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and finally Reader. Characteristically, when she knew the disease was incurable she chose early retirement to her Oxford flat and found welcome as Senior Research Fellow at St Peter's College. There she set herself several scholarly tasks, in collaboration with others and now almost complete.

Collaboration and work to the end were entirely typical; friends found her in the hospital bed, concordance at hand. She faced death with courage and optimism underpinned by Christian faith. As an Oxford undergraduate the Presbyterianism of her upbringing became Anglicanism; it was reticent but deep, a private matter not readily discussed. History was different; it needed discourse. She believed passionately in a scholarly community based on generous sharing of ideas and resources. A world-wide network of friends and acquaintances was visited, met at conferences, corresponded with (Gibson postcards were famous) and helped. She was a sterling friend. She explained that it was unimportant that one could not reciprocate her kindness; one would at some future time (of course) repay someone else. She loved meeting new people; my Irish aunt, who entranced her by keeping Lourdes water in a whisky bottle, became a valued contact.

The essence of her contribution to medieval studies came from her consuming desire to reach the heart of problems, to find out and decide for herself. Early on she shamed us by preparing new lectures not by reading secondary literature but beginning with the sources. Every task was thoroughly mastered. Lecturing on art history lured her into learning photography. Art history led her to ivories. The work she initiated will vastly illuminate Boethius - her Boethius: his life, thought and influence was published in 1981; biblical glosses are now better understood - her Biblia Latina cum Glossa Ordinaria, co-edited with K. Froehlich, appeared in 1992. Wherever she focused her microscope she found new ideas, resulting in meticulous, beautifully written books and articles. At the same time she was an excellent organiser, a colleague of total reliability and a teacher whom undergraduates might find daunting but usually liked and younger scholars found kind and encouraging.

Her enthusiasm was infectious. My mother (no historian) never forgot entertaining her while she worked on Durham manuscripts. At the end of a long day Margaret would appear, accept a glass and then answer the query 'How was your day?' with 40 minutes of exhilaration. The energy, determination, sense of duty and self-discipline were deeply impressive; so was the intense concentration on the matter in hand. I shall miss most the zest of the answer to 'How is Boethius?'.

(Photograph omitted)

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