What better time to look back at some of York alumni’s wide array of love stories than on Valentine’s Day? Rachel Thompson looks back at some of the student romances that went the distance.
From our oldest to our newest graduates their tales might all be personal but combined we can see just how influential their colleges, our city and University were in their story.
With the University celebrating its 50th anniversary last year it’s only right that we begin with the graduates of 1960-70 for the first in this series of Love from York articles.
Margaret and Alan Robertshaw, both of the class of ’66, married on 6th August 1966 and were very the first married couple among York’s alumni.
Alan said: “we are still very happily married and now long retired after a lifetime in teaching. Fond memories of York.”
John (History & Education, Derwent, 1967) and Dianne Smith (History & Philosophy, Derwent, 1967) are York’s second longest married couple, and celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary while in Venice in 1990. Theirs is a story of love at first sight – on John’s part, at least! They both started York in October 1964 and John talks of his first glimpse of Dianne, saying he saw
“a grimly determined girl storming out from her first tutorial with Peter Rycraft,” adding that “Dianne’s first impression of me was of a creep in the front row of lectures at King’s Manor twiddling his beard – incidentally something she still hates – while she deliberately went to sit at the back.”
“Never mind the degree, I got a wife!”
They got to know one another after Christmas and one of their first trips out together was walking in the Kirkham Priory area, where Dianne got soaking wet, making her late for an Epiphany Evensong in the Minster. They married secretly in September during the summer vacation, when John was 26 and Dianne 20. It didn’t remain a secret for long and word got out to the university authorities. When Dianne was summoned to Professor Aylmer’s office, his main concern was that he hoped she would finish her course.
John reminisces, “we must have been quite innocent for in reassuring him – why should he think she wouldn’t finish – it didn’t cross our minds that he feared Dianne might be pregnant!”
Nine years later they had their first child Sophie, and son Sam two years later. In 1999 the alumni’s longest married couple returned to the city that had played backdrop to their youthful romance as Sophie graduated from York with a MA in Medieval & Renaissance Studies.
The story of Rosemary (Sociology, Alcuin, 1969) and Cliff Walters (History & Politics, Vanbrugh, 1970) is almost like a romantic comedy in its charm. On a bright October morning in 1969, Rosemary was making a belated effort to attend a 9.15 lecture from her house off campus. She recalls someone walking behind her quickly, when he caught up to her, he asked her if she knew the time,
“… not the most original chat up line but it got us talking! Going into a cloakroom before the lecture I had a smile on my face and a girl I knew looked at me and asked why on earth I was so cheerful? With utter certainty, and not a little amazement I replied ‘I think I have just met the man I’m going to marry!’ Strange really as I was quite set on not marrying; my dreams were of doing a Child Care stint and an M Phil at Oxford.”
Months passed and Rosemary didn’t see him again, she didn’t even know his name. However, in March at a friend’s 21st party she caught sight of Cliff again. At the time he was dancing with someone else’s girlfriend – but the boyfriend in question was so keen to get her back that he dragged Rosemary over as a substitute. The opening line was “Cliff, this is Ro, she’s interested in Africa.” They clicked immediately over this shared interest, as Cliff had previously worked in Zambia prior to coming to York.
They soon married, and they ended up working in Africa together, embarking on many adventures abroad and at home with two children and five grandchildren. Sadly, Cliff passed away in August 2013, just short of their 44th wedding anniversary. Rosemary ended her story with a heartfelt tribute to Cliff: “he has left the most unfillable gap in our lives; we miss him more than words can say.”
In the very early days when Michael Escreet (Music, Langwith, 1968) and Faith Burningham (English, 1968) attended the University it was so small that they felt they knew most people, at least by sight, so they’re actually unclear when they first met. They were part of a group who regularly ate together, so halfway through their second year when they started going out, they already knew each other pretty well as friends. Michael candidly told me that “much of our courting took place in the Charles, particularly on Mondays after choir practice in the New Building next door.”
They were married the year after graduating, Michael was keen to know if they were the first York couple to become grandparents, as their first grandson was born in 1991. Although they know they missed out on becoming the first parents, they’re hoping this accolade belongs to them.
Susan (Maths, Derwent, 1970) was one of the few American students in their year and was meant to be in York for only one year, doing her “Junior Year Abroad” from Bates College in Maine. However, lucky for her now-husband Gordon (Maths with educational studies, Vanbrugh, 1970) she decided to stay on to complete her degree here. They became engaged at graduation in 1970 and then went to graduate school in the States (Gordon to Brown University and Sue Boston). After receiving their Masters they married and came back to the UK. Back at York, Gordon did his teaching practice at St. Peter’s School, but the states had a big pull and in 1977 they went back.
As one alumnus put it “It was wonderful to be young, in love and studying in a fabulous university with the magnificent city of York on our doorstep.” This love of the city has seen many graduates encouraging their children to study here as well. Bernard (History, Vanbrugh, 1968) and Ann Barker (Biology with educational studies, Derwent, 1968) are one such couple as their son Chris (sadly now deceased) studied biology in York (1997) with many of the same teachers as his mother. Ann and Bernard weren’t actually at York at the same time, as Bernard was a graduate student in 1968 having previously studied at Cambridge. They met on travels around Greece, they first coupled at a nightclub on Mykonos. After much hitch-hiking and many shared weekends in York they married in 1968 and the rest as they say is history.Although this is just the first generation of lovers at the University of York, their stories seem like they could take place at any time since, such is the timeless nature of love in a city as old and beautiful as York is.
Other stories from the decade…
Viv Taylor Gee (English, 1968) and David Taylor Gee (Politics, Derwent, 1968)
David Gee and I met at York in 1966, he was reading Politics and I was reading English. After an interesting few years of on and off, me in Africa and London, him in Italy and Wigan, we got pregant and then married (in that order) in 1974! We joined our names and became officially both Taylor-Gee (like the early Irish feminists don’t you know, well it was the 70s.)
I worked in the NGO sector, then in television making documentaries for Channel Four, Thames and the BBC, then we moved to Copenhagen where I ran communications for the European headquarters of the World Health Organisation, the UN health agency.
He worked for the trade unions, became very involved in occupational and environmental health, then was apppinted director of Friends of the Earth, then worked for the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen.
We are now back from Denmark after 16 years, and retired, except that we are not! I am starting a community bookshop and he travels quite a lot in response to academics, policymakers and campaigns interested in the precautionary principle and associated topics, arising from two books he has edited on the subject.
We have four daughters and four grandchildren, live in London and East Sussex and are still, miraculously, married!
John Smith (History/Education, Derwent; Langwith, 1967) and Dianne Smith (nee Howe) (History/Philosophy, Langwith, 1967)
There are photographs of us in ‘Grapevine’ 1991, taken on graduation day 1967 and in Venice on our 25th wedding anniversary, when we claimed that we might be the first and longest married couple of the University of York. There were subsequently no challengers.
We both came up to York in October 1964 and my first glimpse of Dianne was of a grimly determined girl storming out from her first tutorial with Peter Rycraft, while Dianne’s first impression of me was of a creep in the front row of lectures at King’s Manor twiddling his beard – incidentally something she still hates – while she deliberately went to sit at the back.
We got to know each other better after Christmas and one of our first trips out together was walking in the Kirkham Priory area, where Dianne got soaking wet, making her late for an Epiphany Evensong in the Minster.
We married secretly in September during the summer vacation, when I was 26 and Dianne 20. However, word got round and when the university authorities found out we were summoned to Prof Aylmer’s office. The only thing we remember about this was his concern and hope that Dianne might finish her course. We must have been quite innocent for in reassuring him – why should he think she wouldn’t finish – it didn’t cross our minds that he feared Dianne might be pregnant. In the event we had to wait 9 years for our first child Sophie, and our son Sam followed two years later. We had a mini-reunion at York when Sophie graduated MA in Medieval & Renaissance Studies in July 1999. We are now grandparents of Sophie’s two boys, Edward and Henry.
Paula Burden (Biology, Alcuin, 1970) and John Errington (Biology, Alcuin, 1970)
John and I first met at a party on my corridor a few weeks after we both arrived at York; me from Chichester and John from British Columbia, Canada. The university was quite small in 1967 with only about 2000 students so you would often see each other. My room in C-block of Alcuin looked out on to a pathway that ran directly towards my room and then veered to the end of the block where John’s room in the graduate quarters was located, so he would often notice me as I sat at my desk studying, or trying to write an essay for my next tutorial. We would invariably make eye contact and smile.
It wasn’t until several months later that I made a bigger impression on him. We were both in the biology department but, whereas I was a first year student, John was a graduate student. He was financing his studies for his master’s degree himself and was only too pleased to have the opportunity
to earn some money by acting as a demonstrator at some of the biology labs. So, when I was having some difficulty in a histology lab, John was there to assist. I was having trouble making slides that involved embedding plant material in wax before slicing it into thin sections using a microtome. We had Bunsen burners on the bench and I had neglected to turn the flame from blue to a more visible yellow so when John reached across the bench the hairs on his arm started to singe. Our paths crossed often during that first year but it wasn’t until the following October that we began going out together after a party to celebrate the opening of the new college, Goodricke.
We were married in Chichester on July 10, 1971 a year after we both left York and have lived in British Columbia, mostly in Victoria since then. John has had a long career involved in mine reclamation and I taught science and maths in Vancouver for several years before raising our three children; Ruth, Amy and Angus.
We both have very fond memories of York and have kept in touch with friends we met there.
Susan Jarrett (Mathematics, Vanbrugh, 1970) and Kevin Anthony Jarrett (Language/Education, Derwent, 1970)
We met on Friday 13th September 1968 in St Helen’s, Lancashire. This was during the long vacation. We had not met during the previous year since Kevin was studying in Heidelberg as part of his language degree. However we soon decided to get married and were engaged by January 1969 and married straight after graduation in July 1970.
Gordon MacLeod (Mathematics/Education, Vanbrugh/Goodricke, 1970) and Susan MacLeod (Mathematics, Derwent/Goodricke, 1970)
We knew of each other in our first year. Sue was one of the few American students in our year. She was at York for one year, doing her “Junior Year Abroad” from Bates College in Maine. She decided to stay to complete her degree at York rather than returning to Bates.
We got together in our second year, and became engaged at graduation in 1970. We then went to graduate school in the States (I went to Brown University and Sue went to Boston University). After receiving our Masters’ degrees in mathematics we married and returned to the UK, because the Vietnam War was still going on and I did not want to be drafted. Many people do not realize that one does not need to be a US citizen to be drafted: if you are a “resident alien”, with a green card, you can be drafted.
Back at York, I took my graduate certificate in education, doing my teaching practice at St. Peter’s School, and then we moved to Scotland, where I started teaching at Loretto School in Musselburgh. We moved to the States in 1977.
We are now retired and split our time between Bradenton, Florida, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.