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Gordon Humphreys

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death of Gordon Humphreys, former Lecturer in Russian, and longstanding Warden at Tetley Hall.

Gordon Humphreys was educated at Bedlington Grammar School, Northumberland. After National Service with the Durham Light Infantry and the Intelligence Corps, he studied Russian at Downing College, Cambridge, receiving a BA in 1957 and an MA in 1960. Between 1959 and 1965 he developed his flair for teaching, first at Solihull High School for Girls and then at Haberdasher Aske’s School, Elstree, where he became Head of Russian, and where one of his students obtained the first scholarship in Russian for Cambridge University. He joined the University in 1965 as a Lecturer in Russian Studies.

From the first, it was apparent that it was in teaching that Gordon’s academic interests lay. Naturally sociable, sympathetic and highly reactive to the needs and interests of his students, he was at his most effective in a classroom or a seminar, where he could exchange ideas, stimulate debate and share his lifelong love of both Russian and Czech language and literature (which he began teaching alongside Russian in 1968). He had a strong belief that those who gain the most from education are those who enjoy their subject and are fully involved in developing their own interests and direction within it, and he had the vision, depth of knowledge and deft judgement of character and ability to be able to support each and every individual student in their own journey of linguistic discovery.

Gordon’s interest in teaching also extended beyond the University. As well as acting as an outstanding teacher and examiner within Higher Education, he contributed to national and international conferences on language teaching; conducted his own research into the teaching of English in (the then) Czechoslovakia; and worked on the Russian syllabus and examination methods in UK schools, including serving for many years as setter, marker and, ultimately, Chief Examiner at ‘O’ and ‘A’ level for Russian and Chair of Examiners for the NEAB and OCSEB.

If Gordon had an exceptional gift for teaching, his other gift was in the provision of pastoral care to students. He was closely involved in student welfare and support throughout his career at Leeds, as Adviser to Residents in Astbury and Springfield Flats between 1970 and 1975 and, less formally, as an energetic support of the activities of LUU (including spells as the Vice-President of the Scottish Dancing Society, an art form he had enjoyed since his schooldays, and Secretary to the Orienteering Club). As Sub Dean of Arts between 1977 and 1980, he worked tirelessly to improve student support, and he served on a wide range of University committees and Boards, including the University Senate, always promoting the interests of students. But it was as Warden at Tetley Hall between 1983 and his retirement in 1999 that Gordon truly excelled. He took on a Hall in a rather depressed social state and, together with his wife Val, turned it around, transforming it into one of the most popular residences amongst students by dint of good humour and sheer hard work. He inspired amongst the students a unique mix of love and respect, helping them to truly get the most from their time at University and building the foundations for the thriving community of alumni that exists today.

Gordon was a man of great energy, wit, optimism and humanity who was as selfless as he was dynamic and who, despite the huge contribution he made to the lives of others, remained very modest – someone for whom a job well done was both the highest objective and reward. He will be remembered at the University with enormous affection and respect.